The biological barriers against curing type 1 diabetes are alarming. After the body's immune system kills off the insulin making islet cells in the pancreas, it remains a problem.  The human body mounts an immune response to any transplanted cells requiring the recipient to undergo a lifelong course of immunosuppressant drugs. In response to this, the Diabetes Research Institute is engineering a new way to get around the immune system. 

Tissue Engineering 

Tissue engineering is exactly what it sounds like--engineering or making tissues and materials that maintain, repair, and/or replace insulin function. Protecting implanted cells from the patient's immune system and inflammatory response is crucial for transplant recipients to have a successful procedure. 

The Diabetes Research Institute is funding a tissue engineering program exploring the use of alternative transplantation sites and biomaterials to house the transplanted cells. By designing implantable devices that can house and protect transplanted cells, the Institute is circumventing the need for lifelong immunosuppressant drugs. The cell "container" holds cells and can even be retrieved and restocked with more islet cells. Here are some of the things they are working on: 

  • Mesh Cylinder A  small implantable mesh cylinder is placed under the skin allowing a network of blood vessels to grow in and around the mesh. With already established blood vessels able to deliver oxygen and nutrients, islet cells can be inserted into the cylinder and allowed to thrive and produce insulin.
  • Scaffolds The Diabetes Research Institute's tissue engineering team is also developing bioengineered "scaffolds".Similar to the scaffolding of a building where the framework provides the overall mechanical integrity and three-dimensional structure, tissue engineered scaffolds provide support to the islets.To replicate the islets' natural environment within the pancreas, researchers are using biomaterials to construct scaffolds that will house the islets and enhance delivery of oxygen and other nutrients.
  • Oxygen Sandwich Recognizing that islets require a high amount of oxygen for optimal health, the tissue engineering teams have created a new cell culture device called the "oxygen sandwich."This device provides the cells with a more natural oxygen environment than traditional culture methods.More developments from the "sandwich" are forthcoming as it enters trial phases.
  • Tissue Engineering Nanoencapsulation Applying the same layering technology used in the electronics, optics and sensor industries, the Diabetes Research Institute is using nanoencapsulation for implants devices. By adapting this methodology to cell-based science, researchers are developing biocompatible coatings on the same scale as the cell membrane.These coatings can serve as a type of "camouflage" for implanted islets, allowing them to go unnoticed by the body and avoid inflammatory reactions or immune attack.