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…the size and shape of capsules used in islet cell encapsulation therapy that is!

Islet cell encapsulation is an exciting branch of type 1 diabetes research that is providing real potential for a future ‘cure’ for all people with type 1 diabetes. In this research, insulin-producing cells are protected by a ‘capsule’ that is implanted in humans. This capsule allows the cells to read glucose levels and release insulin in response, but also protects them from immune attacks.

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This therapy is currently in early stage human clinical trials in the US, yet there is still much work to be done. One challenge is that the material used to create the capsule must be tough enough to protect the cells from an immune attack but still be compatible with the body tissues so that it doesn’t set off a localised immune reaction. This could cause scarring around the implant and cut off oxygen to the cells, causing them to die shortly after implantation.

A new journal article published this month in Nature Materials shows that JDRF-supported American researchers have discovered that the size and shape of the encapsulation material are just as important as the type of material when it comes to protecting and optimising the life of implanted islet cells.

Testing a variety of materials including seaweed, hydrogels and ceramics, as well as a range of sizes and shapes, the researchers found that larger spherical capsules were less likely to cause scarring around the implant, and thus were most likely to lead to successful cell encapsulation. In this case, bigger is better!

JDRF Director of Discovery Research Albert Hwa, Ph.D says “This finding could be key to determining the best methods for creating highly effective, long-lasting encapsulated cell therapies for treating T1D.”

These researchers have received additional support from JDRF and the Helmsley Charitable Trust to build on their recent research findings with new studies that will look to optimise the size and shape of encapsulation devices and use materials that are even more biocompatible than those used in previous experiments. They will also begin working to develop an experimental encapsulated islet cell therapy implant.

Read journal article: http://www.nature.com/nmat/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nmat4290.html

 

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