Editors' ChoiceBioengineering

Promoting Islet Cell Growth Gives New Hope for Diabetics

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Science Translational Medicine  15 Dec 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 62, pp. 62ec196
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002016

An ice cream sundae on a sweltering summer day, or a cup of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream on a blustery winter night—for most of us, these sweet treats are some of life’s simple pleasures. For those with type 1 diabetes, however, sugary sweets can cause some serious problems. Type 1 diabetes, which affects both children and adults, is an autoimmune disease in which pancreatic islet cells—which are responsible for insulin production and blood sugar regulation—are destroyed. Sufferers must regularly administer insulin and check blood sugar levels. The transplantation of islet cells has been shown to have some potential in easing the lives of diabetes patients and removing their dependence on external insulin. However, large numbers of islet cells die during isolation, and therefore the treatment of one patient often requires cells from three to four donors, resulting in a general shortage of donor islet cells. To address this critical problem, Daoud et al. created a new three-dimensional scaffold for the long-term culture and expansion of islet cells in a laboratory so as to preserve islet cell viability and function.

To test the scaffold concept, human pancreatic islets cells were seeded onto the three-dimensional composite scaffold, which was composed of a polymer meshwork coated with the extracellular matrix proteins collagen I, fibronectin, and collagen IV. In this structure, the seeded islet cells were found to maintain their phenotype, producing insulin and reacting to glucose stimulation similar to freshly isolated cells. These promising results show that a scaffold can preserve islet cells in a laboratory without compromising their function. This finding may lead to a reduction in current donor shortages and facilitate treating type 1 diabetes by islet cell transplantation, granting the freedom to indulge in life’s simple pleasures.

J. T. Daoud et al., Long-term in vitro human pancreatic islet culture using three-dimensional microfabricated scaffolds. Biomaterials 18 November 2010 (10.1016/j.biomaterials.2010.10.036). [Abstract]

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