A completely new way of controlling insulin dependent diabetes without daily injections of insulin has been found by researchers.
Surgeons from Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston have bio engineered a novel matrix that serves as a scaffold for seeding supportive stem cells as well as pancreatic islets (the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas).
The researchers note that the matrix not only helps to understand the micro-architecture of the pancreas, but also prolongs the survival and preserves the function of the islets.
Islets survived longer in the bio-artificial matrix than in conventional transplantation sites, and they produced significantly more insulin when challenged with glucose.
"Islet cell transplantation is the only treatment of insulin dependent diabetes that can consistently establish insulin independence," said Claudius Conrad of the Massachusetts General Hospital.
However, islets only feel at home in the pancreatic niche, and therefore their survival and ability to produce insulin declines rapidly if transplanted, for example, in the liver.
"The pancreas provides a very special environment for islets. By default, the survival and function of the islet cells will always be worse in any organ other than the pancreas.
To engineer an endocrine pancreas, islet- and stem cells require an extracellular matrix (ECM) that provides specific archi- tecture, microstructure, and most importantly microvasculature to form the islet cell specific niche," he said.
Conrad and his colleagues are attempting to form a cellular structure that mimics the natural resting place on which the islets thrive.
"We are trying to improve the survival and the functionality of the islets by creating their pancreas specific niche," he explained.
The matrix was formed by removing cells from pancreatic tissue with biological deter-gents so only the proteins that hold the cells together were left.
The resulting matrix was seeded with donor islet cells and supportive stem cells, and the entire construct was successfully trans-planted and maintained in a recipient animal model using microsurgical techniques.
The findings were presented at the Annual Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons.