An implantable device could enable injection-free control of type 1 diabetes  

Key Takeaways

  • Engineers have designed an implantable device that carries hundreds of thousands of islet cells along with its own on-board oxygen factory to keep the cells healthy.
  • Such a device could help type 1 diabetes patients eliminate the need for insulin injections.

Most patients with type 1 diabetes have to monitor their blood glucose levels carefully and inject themselves with insulin at least once a day. However, this process doesn’t replicate the body’s natural ability to control blood glucose levels.

One promising alternative to treating type 1 diabetes is implanting pancreatic islet cells that can produce insulin when needed, which can free patients from giving themselves frequent insulin injections. However, one major obstacle to this approach is that once the cells are implanted, they eventually run out of oxygen and stop producing insulin.

To overcome that hurdle, MIT engineers have designed a new implantable device that not only carries hundreds of thousands of insulin-producing islet cells, but also has its own on-board oxygen factory, which generates oxygen by splitting water vapor found in the body. Unlike other devices, which contain oxygen chambers that need to be periodically reloaded or chemical reagents that must be replaced, the MIT technology could potentially generate oxygen indefinitely.

The researchers showed that when implanted into diabetic mice, this device could keep the mice’s blood glucose levels stable for at least a month. The researchers now hope to create a larger version of the device, about the size of a stick of chewing gum, that could eventually be tested in people with type 1 diabetes.

“You can think of this as a living medical device that is made from human cells that secrete insulin, along with an electronic life support-system. We’re excited by the progress so far, and we really are optimistic that this technology could end up helping patients,” says Daniel Anderson, the senior author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research was funded by JDRF, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ScienceDaily, September 18, 2023; see source article