JDRF’s research strategy focuses on a number of key areas that are most likely to deliver new therapies and treatments, and a cure, to people with type 1 diabetes in the most efficient and effective way in the short and long term.
One of these key research areas is in the field of encapsulation – implantable beta cell replacement therapies that restore insulin independence without the need for intensive immune suppression.
In a new video from JDRF in America, scientist Albert Hwa PhD explains the concepts of:
- Islet transplantation – where islets are isolated from donated human pancreases and then infused into the livers of people with type 1 diabetes. In this procedure, powerful immunosuppressive drugs must be taken long-term to prevent destruction of the islets.
- Micro encapsulation – Stem- or other human cell-derived islets are surrounded by a protective membrane, where the distance between beta cells and the membrane layer is very short. Changing glucose levels are rapidly detected, allowing for a quick response by the protected beta cells, but the encapsulation device is fragile.
- Macro encapsulation – Stem or other human cell-derived islets are encapsulated in robust man-made products with high cell density. The distance between the cells and the protective membrane is much longer, but the encapsulation device is stronger.
As Dr Hwa says, “the overall goal of encapsulation research is that if we can implant insulin-producing beta cells inside patients and make them last for a very long time without being rejected by the immune system and without the use of harmful drugs, then we have achieved the goal of relieving the burden of managing diabetes by the patients themselves”.
In Australia, JDRF has led the way in islet transplantation research, through management of the Government-funded Islet Transplantation Program, which ran from 2006 – 2011. After successful testing in a specific patient group during the program, the procedure is now funded and accessible to eligible people through the Nationally Funded Centres program.
Other recent interesting encapsulation research out of Australia includes the development and subsequent commercialisation of insulin-producing cells from liver cells by Professor Ann Simpson at the University of Technology Sydney. Professor Simpson’s procedure is now being developed by biotech company Nuvilex who are aiming to encapsulate these cells in their own protective barrier (read JDRF blog article on this development).