In an exciting breakthrough for diabetes patients, a team of US researchers has eliminated type 1 diabetes symptoms in rats with a coin-sized implant.
They’re hoping the research leads human trials within a few years.
Their 3D-printed device, which slowly releases therapeutics into the body, could one day be a safer and more convenient treatment for people with type 1 diabetes.
The device, called the Neovascularized Implantable Cell Homing and Encapsulation (NICHE), and the successful rat study is described in a Nature Communications paper.
Type 1 diabetes, the less common type of diabetes, is caused by the body’s immune system attacking and destroying cells in the pancreas, which make insulin.
Without enough insulin, blood sugar levels can’t be controlled, causing a variety of side effects.
There isn’t currently a cure for type 1 diabetes; it’s typically managed with daily insulin injections and careful monitoring of food intake.
In severe cases, people may need pancreas or liver transplants, or transplants of insulin-making islet cells.
Patients will then need to be on immunosuppression drugs for the rest of their lives so their bodies don’t reject the transplant. This puts them at risk from infectious diseases.
The NICHE counters this with localised immunosuppression drugs.
It sits under the skin, slowly releasing immunosuppressants which work on the surrounding area but not the rest of the body. It also has a reservoir for islet cells.
It makes use of resins, tiny pores, and nanofluidics to keep the islet cells healthy while storing and releasing immunosuppressants.
When tested on rats and a monkey, this 2.5 centimetre device suppressed diabetes symptoms, without causing rejection of the islet cells.
It currently needs to be refilled with immunosuppressant drugs every month, but the researchers, who are based at Houston Methodist Hospital in the US, believe they can improve it so that it only needs refilling every six months.
“A key result of our research is that local immunosuppression for cell transplantation is effective,” says corresponding author Dr Alessandro Grattoni, chair of the Department of Nanomedicine at Houston Methodist Research Institute.
“This device could change the paradigm of how patients are managed and can have massive impact on treatment efficacy and improvement of patients’ quality of life.”
Next, the researchers are working on a range of studies to improve the device and ready it for human trials. They hope that they’ll be testing their device on people in three years’ time.
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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