3D-printing technology has been providing hope to the medical community over the past few years with developments like the printing of prosthetic limbs, or even bone for skull fractures. Now, researchers have found a way to 3D-print a potential cure for type 1 diabetes, in the form of a protective structure for islet cells.


Current islet transplantation methods result in over half of the islets being destroyed shortly after transplantation by the immune system. Even while taking powerful immunosuppressive drugs, most transplant recipients don’t remain insulin independent for more than five years. Overcoming these limitations could make the procedure accessible to a larger group of people.

This new 3D printing technique from Dutch researchers creates a protective structure for islet cells that could improve the success of islet transplantation in type 1 diabetes.

The technique, called “bioplotting”, involves mixing insulin-producing islet cells with a ‘hydrogel’. This mixture is then printed into an islet-embedded 3D structure which:

  • Protects the cells from the immune attack
  • Allows oxygen to circulate and insulin to be released
  • Prevents cells from migrating throughout the body
  • Could eliminate the need for immunosuppressive drugs

The structure has the added advantage of allowing blood vessels to grow and fuse into it, enabling efficient oxygen and nutrient supply, and rapid insulin release as required.

Before this implant can become a treatment for type 1 diabetes, it must first be tested in animals and humans to ensure that the implant survives and is able to control blood glucose over the long-term. If successful, islet transplantation may become available to more people living with type 1 diabetes.

To read the full journal article, click here.


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