Encapsulating Insulin-Producing Cells For Possible Diabetes Therapy

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke University chemists led by assistant professor Mark Grinstaff are developing novel liquid polymers that can be solidified by a quick flash of laser light to seal transplanted insulin-producing cells inside a selectively permeable capsule, thus preventing rejection by diabetics' immune systems.

An interdisciplinary collaboration, involving Duke's department of chemistry as well as its medical center and School of Engineering, has already reduced the excessive blood sugar levels of experimental diabetic rats for as long as eight days after transplanting such insulin-secreting microcapsules into those animals' bodies.

Grinstaff's group prepared their report for presentation Thursday during the American Chemical Society's 50th southeastern regional meeting. The research is funded by Research To Prevent Blindness, Inc., The North Carolina Biotechnology Center, the Whitaker Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Each microcapsule encloses an individually-transplanted cell tissue cluster called an islet of Langerhans. Normally residing in the pancreas, these islets are "little endocrine organs" that "make insulin and multiple hormones in addition to insulin," said Diane Hatchell, a Duke professor of ophthalmology and cell biology who adds her medical expertise to the collaboration.

"The trick is to see if we can design a system in which we can transplant the islets from one species into another species by using our microcapsule," Grinstaff said.

Diabetes, the third leading cause of death in the United States, involves disruptions to normal pancreatic production of insulin, which serves to regulate glucose levels in the bloodstream.

Medical researchers have explored the transplantation into diabetics of healthy Islets of Langerhans, perhaps from the pancreases of pigs, as one possible diabetes therapy. But the immune system

Contact: Marl Grinstaff
Duke University

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