European researchers developing implantable, insulin-controlling capsule to fight diabetes

Irish researchers have developed a gel containing clusters of pancreatic cells that they say can control glucose levels for up to 5 years when administered via a minimally invasive injection procedure being developed by medical device bigwig Boston Scientific ($BSX).

The team says its research will offer diabetics an alternative to pancreas transplantation, which is plagued by a shortage of donated organs and high rejection rates. In addition, according to the website of Ireland's national public service broadcaster, the treatment lasts for 5 years, compared with two years for pancreas transplants.

The gel is contained within a capsule that releases an immunosuppressant in a gradual manner in order to reduce the need for antirejection medication, the article says, adding that the capsule can be refilled when it is empty.

The initiative is an attempt at what's known as islet transplantation, referring to the clusters of hormone-producing cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. It is spearheaded by the so-call DRIVE consortium consisting of 14 academic and industry partners, including Ireland's Royal College of Surgeons, which developed the new method of treating diabetes. DRIVE recently won €8.9 million ($9.7 million) from the European Union research fund Horizon 2020.

Another consortium member is the University of Oxford's Transplantation Immunology Research Group. "Developing more specific approaches to inhibiting the immune response and inducing tolerance to the islet transplant, would offer an enormous advantage and make islet transplantation a safe procedure for treating children with type I diabetes," the group's website says.

Oxford's team is working on islet transplantation using a prototype bioartificial pancreas being developed by France's Defymed. Because donated human pancreas that are suitable for or islet transplantation are rare, the company's prototype also uses islets taken from animals and aims to eliminate the use of immunosuppressants and external devices altogether.

According to an Oxford announcement, the first-in-man transplantation of the experimental therapy is slated for 2016.

- read the article from Ireland's national public service broadcaster

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