Researchers at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology are developing 3-D structures made up of mouse islets (insulin-secreting cells), blood vessels from human umbilical veins and human skin cells seeded onto biocompatible polymeric scaffolds that could be implanted and would deliver insulin in response to the body's needs. They hope to overcome the challenge Type 1 diabetes poses for drug delivery--generally patients have to rely on multiple injections of insulin or an insulin pump.
Islet transplants can help patients with Type 1 diabetes, but as with many transplants, they can fail, because of a lack of blood vessels. The scaffolds developed by the Israeli researchers have their own blood vessel network built in, which secrete growth hormones and other molecules, improving the chances of the transplanted tissue surviving and functioning normally.
The insulin-producing cells in the scaffolds survived three times longer than islets grown on their own, and produced more insulin and other essential hormones, according to Shulamit Levenberg. The islet cells continued to function after the scaffolds were transplanted into mice, effectively lowering blood sugar.
The technology "is still far from tests in humans," Levenberg said, adding that she and her colleagues are beginning to test the 3-D tissue scaffolds using human instead of mouse islets.
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