In recent years, researchers have been testing beta cell replacement as a treatment option for people living with type 1 diabetes (T1D). The therapy can often prove challenging as it involves implanting functional, insulin-producing beta cells into individuals whose beta cells have been destroyed by autoimmune attacks, and protecting them without the use of immune-suppressing drugs.
Thanks to a grant from JDRF, Rice University (TX) bioengineers, Drs. Omid Veiseh and Jordan Miller are combining cell-based therapy applications with sophisticated 3D-printed technologies to help the cells continue to flourish and produce insulin. Their work focuses on fabricating and testing 3D-printed hydrogel chambers that house transplanted cells and an underlying vascular network. The encapsulation device, designed to mimic the pancreas, is expected to encourage the long-term production of islet cells that control glucose levels without requiring immuno-suppressing drugs.
According to Dr. Veiseh, implanted biomaterials naturally lead to foreign body responses, such as inflammation. In order to enhance the survival and performance of implanted beta cells, the encapsulation device must have the capacity to encourage the growth of capillaries and provide oxygen to the cells within.
For this project, Dr. Miller will introduce new 3D-printing approaches to create molds that can be filled with a gel containing beads full of cells that are protected by a coating made from algae.
“Our 3D-printing system will enable the construction of semi-permeable cavities for seeding an alginate hydrogel with entrapped islet cells, which shield the maturing cells from the foreign body response and promote engraftment processes as vessel networks form between host and graft,” he explains.
The duo is hopeful their findings will lead to the development of islet production for wide-spread clinical application in the future.
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