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MIT’s Implantable Device Offers Hope for Injection-Free Diabetes Treatment

MIT engineers have designed an implantable device aimed at injection-free diabetes management. The device holds insulin-producing cells and an innovative oxygen-producing mechanism, enabling it to function effectively in the body. In tests with diabetic mice, the device maintained stable blood glucose levels for over a month. The research offers a potential new avenue for diabetes treatment.

This groundbreaking device encapsulates insulin-producing islet cells and contains an on-board oxygen factory, addressing a major limitation of previously designed implantable devices. Insulin-producing cells, when transplanted, usually stop functioning due to a lack of oxygen. This new device solves that problem by generating oxygen through the splitting of water vapor present in the body, ensuring the cells remain active and healthy. The study, funded by JDRF, HCT, and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“You can think of this as a living medical device that is made from human cells that secrete insulin, along with an electronic life support-system. We’re excited by the progress so far, and we really are optimistic that this technology could end up helping patients,” says Daniel Anderson, a professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, and the senior author of the study.

When tested on diabetic mice, the device maintained stable blood glucose levels for at least a month. The team is now working towards a version the size of a stick of chewing gum for potential human trials.

“The vast majority of diabetics that are insulin-dependent are injecting themselves with insulin, and doing their very best, but they do not have healthy blood sugar levels. If you look at their blood sugar levels, even for people that are very dedicated to being careful, they just can’t match what a living pancreas can do” Anderson says.

Typically, Type 1 diabetes patients monitor their blood glucose levels and administer insulin injections daily. This process, however, doesn’t mimic the body’s natural insulin regulation. Transplanting insulin-producing cells offers a more natural solution, but such cells often face rejection by the recipient’s immune system, leading patients to rely on immunosuppressive drugs.

While some experimental devices have tried addressing the oxygen supply challenge with reloadable oxygen chambers, they require frequent maintenance. The MIT solution, by contrast, uses a proton-exchange membrane, a technology typically used in fuel cells, to split water vapor into oxygen and hydrogen. The generated oxygen supports the insulin-producing cells, while the hydrogen harmlessly dissipates.

Notably, this innovative process requires no external wires or batteries. It operates on a minimal voltage generated wirelessly from a magnetic coil outside the body, which can be worn as a skin patch. After testing their quarter-sized device in diabetic mice, researchers found that mice with the oxygen-generating device maintained normal blood sugar levels. Conversely, those without the oxygen support became hyperglycemic within two weeks.

While scar tissue, a common side effect of implanting medical devices, formed around the implants, it didn’t inhibit the device’s efficacy. This suggests that the insulin and glucose were able to move freely in and out of the device.

This technology holds promise beyond diabetes treatment. Anderson expresses optimism about adapting these “living medical devices” to treat other conditions requiring consistent therapeutic protein delivery. For instance, the study also demonstrated the device’s ability to sustain cells producing erythropoietin, a protein vital for red blood cell production.

The research, a collaborative effort between MIT and Boston Children’s Hospital, has ignited hope for a novel treatment method for diabetes and potentially other diseases. As the team gears up for larger animal trials, they anticipate a bright future, envisioning long-term devices for human use that are both effective and minimally intrusive.

Resources: Krishnan, Siddharth R. et al, A wireless, battery-free device enables oxygen generation and immune protection of therapeutic xenotransplants in vivo, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2311707120. The reference for the article:>>>

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