Scientists are conducting a study that would use human stem cells to repopulate insulin-producing cells destroyed by Type 1 diabetes. The cells would be grown in the lab and transplanted to diabetes patients. The process looks very promising, and the transplanted cells would begin producing insulin immediately — and could revolutionize diabetes treatment.
Microscopic groups of cells, called islets, are responsible for producing insulin in the pancreas. But Type 1 diabetes tricks the immune system into killing these cells, causing a lifelong dependency on insulin shots. Without insulin, cells could not obtain energy from sugars (glucose) and would starve — leading to loss of vision, heart conditions, and even death.
A lifelong dependency on shots, that is, unless islets could be restored in the pancreas. Enter researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering who are investigating the use of stem cells to engineer pancreatic islets in the lab. Step 1: meeting the oxygen demands of the pancreatic cells. Since these islets have a very high oxygen demand, researchers began looking for new techniques to speed up the oxygen possibilities after tests began to show this would ultimately improve cell life and transplantation outcome.
Ipsita Banerjee, associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and lead investigator of the study, said, "Through collaborative efforts, we have developed a method of implanting blood vessel fragments into the islets. By vascularizing the islets before they are transplanted to the body, they are more likely to survive and can begin regulating blood glucose more quickly."
Blood vessels carry out the oxygenation process for the cells, and once researchers overcame this huge obstacle, they set their sights on converting stem cells into Type 1 diabetes-resistant supercells. The process in underway, and Banerjee and colleagues hope to have a working process in the near future.
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