Tiny drug-delivering capsules could sustain transplanted insulin-producing cells.

Researchers have long explored ways to transplant pancreatic islets to treat type I diabetes in the long term to eliminate the need for continuous glucose monitoring and insulin injections. However, there are several challenges to this approach. Now, a study from researchers at the University of Illinois demonstrates insulin-secreting cells, called islets, show increased viability and function after spending twenty-one days inside tiny capsules containing even tinier capsules bearing a drug making the cells more resilient to oxygen deprivation. The team states their drug-carrying microsphere within a cell-bearing microcapsule could be the key to transplanting insulin-secreting pig pancreas cells into human patients whose own cells have been destroyed by type I diabetes. The study is published in the journal Drug Delivery and Translational Research.

Previous studies have shown there are many hurdles to pancreatic islet transplantation, with functional, viable islets needed to secrete insulin when exposed to glucose.  This is married to the fact once the islets are isolated from tissue, the next big challenge is to keep them alive and functioning after transplantation. The current study develops islets co-encapsulated with the exenatide-loaded microspheres exhibiting improved survival and glucose-stimulated insulin secretion, compared to those without.

The current study develops tiny microspheres loaded with a drug to improve cell viability and function in hypoxic conditions. The microspheres are designed to provide an extended-release of the drug over twenty-one days. The group packaged pig islets and the microspheres together within microcapsules and compared them with encapsulated islets minus the drug-containing microspheres over three weeks.

Results show after twenty-one days, around seventy-one percent of the islets packaged with the drug-releasing microspheres remained viable, while only about forty-five percent of the islets encapsulated on their own survived. Data findings show the cells with the microspheres also maintained their ability to produce insulin in response to glucose at a significantly higher level than those without the microspheres.

The team states their study demonstrates the viability in vitro of their microsphere-within-a-microcapsule strategy to enable islet transplantation. For the future, the researchers hope to test their microsphere-within-a-microcapsule technique in small animals before looking toward larger animal or human trials.

Source: University of Illinois

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