Israeli researchers believe that they have found a way to increase the survival and effectiveness of insulin-producing pancreatic cells transplanted into diabetic mice. The technique, developed by scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, involves surrounding the transplanted beta cells with a three-dimensional latticework of nurturing blood vessels called “engineered tissue.”
In subsequent lab experiments, the researchers say, the transplanted cells functioned and lasted three times longer than cells transplanted without a supporting cast of blood vessels. Writing in the US medical journal PLOS One, they reported that the diabetic mice with the transplanted cells had lowered blood sugar levels.
The scientists used a porous plastic material to build the lattices, then placed three different kinds of “seed” cells within them. The seed cells included mouse islets, human foreskin cells, and blood vessel cells from human umbilical veins.The cells grew along the latticework, creating a blood-rich protective barrier around the transplanted pancreatic islets.
Interestingly, the enveloping blood vessel latticework did not directly connect to the transplanted islets or provide an actual blood supply. However, it protected against transplant failure by secreting growth hormones and creating cell-to-cell communication that improved survival of the transplanted cells.
Islet transplantation is one of the most radical approaches to treating type 1 diabetes because it attempts to recreate a means by which patients can begin producing their own insulin. To date, however, it has been hampered by both the lack of sufficient donors and the almost inevitable eventual death of the transplanted cells.
Lead researcher Professor Shulamit Levenberg of the Technion said that while the procedure she and her team developed is still far from testing in humans, they do plan to use human islets in future experiments involving the tissue scaffolds.