Management of diabetes can include a range of interventions, from specific diets and exercise to the regular use of insulin. Despite these interventions, managing diabetes is a life-long challenge. While there are many reasons managing diabetes can be challenging, one key factor involves patient adherence to taking insulin. In fact, previous research suggests that various barriers, such as needing to inject insulin or inadequate instruction on how to do so, are among the main reasons people fail to take life-saving medication.
A new implant developed by researchers at Rice University may eliminate the need for people with diabetes to regularly administer their own insulin, removing a key barrier for people with diabetes.
The implant is the result of years of research focused on 3D vasculature tissue printing, or tissue that includes or imitates blood vessels. The printing of vasculature tissue has been explored previously as a viable option for synthetic tissue development. Along with vasculature tissue, the implant uses human stems that create beta cells, which produce insulin and are used to help detect any changes to blood glucose and respond accordingly. Researchers hope that the combination of tissue and artificially developed beta cells could help replicate the kidney’s natural processes and give people with diabetes a way to manage their glucose levels without the need for active monitoring or insulin administration.
"We're using a combination of pre-vascularization through advanced 3D bioprinting and host-mediated vascular remodeling to give each implant several shots at host integration," said Jordan Miller, associate professor of bioengineering.
As a cell therapy that introduces new cells to the body, the implant has some inherent risks, such as the body rejecting the new cells. Omid Veiseh, assistant professor of bioengineering and co-developer of the implant, has developed a hydrogel that may help protect the cells from the recipient’s immune system while still giving them access to blood vessels and other essential nutrients to survive.
The research team noted that their next step is to test the implant in mice, with specific attention to how quickly the implant and modified cells respond to changes in blood glucose levels.