Diabetes: Bioreactor takes over insulin production



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The implanted bioreactor produces insulin in the body

With the help of a newly developed bioreactor, which takes over the function of the pancreas, the treatment of type 1 diabetes could be significantly improved in the future. Scientists at the University Hospital Dresden have successfully used an artificial pancreatic system to treat a patient with type 1 diabetes in a test that has so far been unique worldwide. "To do this, they implanted a patient with a bioreactor with human islet cells, which reliably produced insulin there for around a year," said the university hospital.

The treatment of type 1 diabetes patients who, despite drug therapy, suffer from life-threatening fluctuations in their sugar levels (see high blood sugar, low blood sugar) could improve significantly in the future with the new bioreactor. So far, a pancreatic organ and islet cell transplant have remained the only options for those affected to replace the insulin-producing beta cells, reports the Dresden University Hospital. These treatment options have always been linked to the long-term use of immunosuppressive drugs, which made patients more susceptible to infections or other possible side effects such as an increased risk of cancer, the university hospital said. "So far, treatment has only been considered for people who meet very specific medical criteria," the researchers explain. The team led by Professor Dr. Stefan R. Bornstein, Director of Medical Clinic III at the University Hospital Dresden, published in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS).

Improved treatment options for type 1 diabetes The scientists implanted a small flat can with contained islet cells in the type 1 diabetes patient. The special jar protected the donor cells from attacks by the immune system and the insulin could still get into the body, write Professor Bornstein and colleagues. With the novel therapy and the pancreas system, the “immunosuppression necessary for transplants will become superfluous.” Admittedly, further studies are needed before a larger number of patients can benefit from this innovative therapy. However, the researchers are certain that their development will contribute to a significant improvement in the treatment options for type 1 diabetes in the future. "We estimate that the system will be a therapy option in the treatment of diabetes in five years," emphasizes Professor Bornstein. Nobel Laureate in Medicine Professor Andrew V. Schally from the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, who is in a research network with the scientists from Dresden, rated the development of the artificial pancreas system as a success of "historical importance."

No immunosuppressive agents and donor organs required According to the researchers, the controlled oxygen supply to the cells contained is crucial for the success of the bioreactor. This would keep them active and continue to produce insulin. The supply of oxygen has so far been a little complex, but the scientists are working on improvements in the applicability. Theoretically, in the future their method could "also use insulin-producing cells from pigs without being rejected by the human organism," write the Bornstein and colleagues. In this way, many more people with diabetes could benefit from an islet cell transplant. "The recipient of donor cells would no longer have to take immunosuppressive drugs for life and one could avoid the problem of the lack of donor organs," emphasized Professor Bornstein. (fp)

Image: Michael Horn / pixelio.de

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