Two San Diego companies, Demos and Micro Islet, recently joined forces to advance islet transplantation. Desmos will make the islets, while Micro Islet will protect them once they’ve been transplanted.
Possibly the two biggest headaches in islet research are finding an ample supply of islets for transplantation, and convincing the body not to attack these islets, as it attacked the person’s original islets, causing diabetes.
Desmos has developed laminin-5 technology, which the company claims can reproduce islets. Thus, if the technology works, one islet could create the huge number needed for a successful islet transplant.
Laminin-5 is Desmos’ private technology, so not much information is available outside the company. It involves putting islets onto a surface coated with laminin-5, explains Mary Harper, Desmos’ vice president of research and development.
“The cells find that environment beneficial, and islet cells start to move [and] spread out, and attach to the laminin-5 surface,” says Harper. “This environment induces them to start proliferating.”
Along with the laminin-5 technology, a “proliferation media” is also crucial to proliferating islets, reports Harper. She adds that combining the two allows Desmos to reproduce islets one million to one billion fold.
“These expanded islets are responsive to glucose, produce insulin and other pancreatic hormones, and exhibit functionality very similar to original islets.”
So far, Desmos has used human islets from cadaver donors, and tested them in mice. The company is preparing a study for publication. From there, the next step is to move into studies with a larger animal, like a dog or a monkey.
Micro Islet’s part will be to encapsulate the islets in order to protect them from the body’s autoimmune response that destroys them. Micro Islet calls its encapsulation technology “a sphere made of alginate-polylysine membrane.” This membrane allows glucose and insulin to flow in and out, but keeps the body’s destructive forces out.