One of the great burdens of living with type 1 diabetes is the necessity to inject oneself periodically with insulin. One promising solution has been to inject the patient with islets of Langerhans, those cells that usually reside in the pancreas that produce insulin. The technique is to introduce the islets to the liver, where they begin producing the insulin while being shielded from the body’s immune system that destroys them in people with type 1 diabetes.
The problem with making this procedure more common has been in the collection and transportation of the islets. The cells are preserved in ice, which can damage them during freezing and thawing.
The Okinawa Institute of Technology and Science Graduate University (OIST) along with the University of Washington and Wuhan University of Technology may have come up with a solution, according to Gizsmag. The researchers have created a capsule made from a hydrogel created from alginate, a polymer extracted from seaweed. Because of the chemical properties of the hydrogel, the formation of ice is prevented along with damage to islets thus encapsulated.
The membrane of the capsule is porous enough to allow nutrients to pass inside and the insulin to pass outside. While being thus stored, oxygen can also pass inside the capsule, keeping the islets alive until implantation. A fluorescent dye incorporated in the hydrogel material indicates whether oxygen is still present and that the islets are still alive. The technique, it is hoped, will cut down on rejection rates and make such implants more viable once the medical device industry is able to make it available.
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