Mini-Organ Shows Promise for Type 1 Diabetes
WebMD News Archive
By Serena Gordon
TUESDAY, March 5 (HealthDay News) -- A new bioengineered, miniature organ dubbed the BioHub might one day offer people with type 1 diabetes freedom from their disease.
In its final stages, the BioHub would mimic a pancreas and act as a home for transplanted islet cells, providing them with oxygen until they could establish their own blood supply. Islet cells contain beta cells, which are the cells that produce the hormone insulin. Insulin helps the body metabolize the carbohydrates found in foods so they can be used as fuel for the body's cells.
The BioHub also would provide suppression of the immune system that would be confined to the area around the islet cells, or it's possible each islet cell might be encapsulated to protect it against the autoimmune attack that causes type 1 diabetes.
The first step, however, is to load islet cells into the BioHub and transplant it into an area of the abdomen known as the omentum. These trials are expected to begin within the next year or year and a half, said Dr. Luca Inverardi, deputy director of translational research at the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami, where the BioHub is being developed.
Dr. Camillo Ricordi, the director of the institute, said the project is very exciting. "We're assembling all the pieces of the puzzle to replace the pancreas," he said.
"Initially, we have to go in stages, and clinically test the components of the BioHub," he said. "The first step is to test the scaffold assembly that will work like a regular islet cell transplant."
The Diabetes Research Institute already successfully treats type 1 diabetes with islet cell transplants into the liver.
In type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the beta cells contained within islet cells. This means someone with type 1 diabetes can no longer produce the insulin they need to get sugar (glucose) to the body's cells, so they must replace the lost insulin. This can be done only through multiple daily injections or with an insulin pump via a tiny tube inserted under the skin and changed every few days.
Although islet cell transplantation has been very successful in treating type 1 diabetes, the underlying autoimmune condition is still there. Because transplanted cells come from cadaver donors, people who have islet cell transplants must take immune-suppressing drugs to prevent rejection of the new cells. This puts people at risk of developing complications from the medication, and, over time, the immune system destroys the new islet cells.
Because of these issues, islet cell transplantation is generally reserved for people whose diabetes is very difficult to control or who no longer have an awareness of potentially dangerous low blood-sugar levels.