Tiny layers of pig tissue could led to breakthrough in treatment of type 1 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on September 12, 2016

Scientists in the United States are exploring ways of using nano thin layers of pig tissue to treat type one diabetes by deterring or preventing immune rejection.

The ultimate goal of the project from the University of Alabama at Birmingham is to transplant insulin producing cell clusters from pigs into humans. The technique would use pancreatic islets from pigs or mice coated with thin bilayers of biomimetic material.

PigOne of the chief jobs of pancreatic islets is production of insulin to regulate levels of blood sugar. In Type 1 diabetes, the ß-cells that produce insulin are destroyed by an autoimmune attack by the body’s own immune system. To protect transplanted donor islets, researchers elsewhere have tried to coat islets with thick gels, or with coatings that bind covalently or ionically to the islets. Those approaches have had limited success.

Hubert Tse, an immunologist and associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, UAB School of Medicine, and Eugenia Kharlampieva, a polymer and materials chemist and associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at the university have taken a different approach, applying a gentler and much thinner coating of just five bilayers of biomimetic material about 30 nanometers thick.

These layers act as a physical barrier that dissipates reactive oxygen species, and they also dampen the immune response. The thinness of the coat allows nutrients and oxygen easy passage to the cells. ‘We did not expect the multilayers would show such a large, potential benefit,’ said Kharlampieva.

After a year of testing the researchers found that nano-coated mouse islets survived and functioned as long as 40 days in diabetic mice that lack working immune systems. ‘We showed that they do stay alive, and they function to regulate blood glucose,’ Tse said.

Now Tse and Kharlampieva, supported by grants from diabetes charity JDRF, are testing the survival and functioning of nano-coated islets from mice or pigs in diabetic mice with intact immune systems.

The pig islets come from their University of Alberta collaborator Greg Korbutt, whose research team has shown that human islets transplanted into immunosuppressed patients with brittle diabetes can produce insulin independence. They are the leader in islet transplantation and developed the Edmonton Protocol for novel immunosuppression.

Tse pointed out that pig islets, in contrast to scarce supplies of human islets, offer an unlimited source of insulin-producing tissue.

In the UAB experiments, the mouse and pig islets are coated with four or five bilayers of tannic acid and either poly N–vinylpyrrolidone or poly N–vinylcaprolactam by research scientist Veronika Kozlovskaya.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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