Under-the-skin implant could treat type 1 diabetes  

Key Takeaways

  • Researchers have developed a device that can be implanted inside a pocket under the skin and secrete insulin, without the need for immunosuppression.
  • The approach could offer an easier, long-term and less invasive alternative to insulin injections or traditional transplants that require immunosuppression.

For the last decade, Minglin Ma, professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell, has been trying to develop a better way to control type 1 diabetes. In 2017, he unveiled a removeable polymer thread containing thousands of islet cells, protected by a thin hydrogel coating, that could be implanted in a patient’s abdomen. The enclosed islets could secrete insulin in response to the body’s diminished blood-sugar levels while also receiving a steady flow of nutrients and oxygen to stay healthy. Ma’s lab created a more robust version in 2021 that proved effective in controlling blood sugar in diabetic mice for up to six months.

Those projects prompted James Shapiro of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, to reach out about a possible collaboration. Shapiro had created a method for inserting islets in channels just under a person’s skin, then applying immunosuppression to protect them. “I was intrigued by the virtue of Ma’s approach as it avoided the need for immunosuppression, and I wondered if we might combine our two innovative strategies to improve cell survival,” Shapiro said. “Indeed it worked.” The new system, named SHEATH (Subcutaneous Host-Enabled Alginate THread), could offer an easier, long-term and less invasive alternative to insulin injections or traditional transplants that require immunosuppression. The group’s paper is published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

While additional challenges for the long-term clinical application of the device remain, Ma is hopeful that future versions will be able to last for two to five years before needing to be replaced.

Source: David Nutt, Cornell University, Medical Xpress, December 5, 2023; see source article