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.
Julia Greenstein, vice president of Cure Therapies for JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Institute), said the risks of islet cell transplantation currently outweigh the benefits for healthy people with type 1 diabetes.
That's where the BioHub comes in.
"The BioHub is like a nest that the islet cells will sit in and be protected and cared for," Inverardi said. "It's a transparent, flat structure about the size of a quarter. It's shaped so you can put the islet cells in it, and it's porous to allow [the islets to develop a new blood supply]."
The device is made of a silicone compound that's already in use for other medical conditions. "The BioHub is ... like an open frame, with about 95 percent air. The design keeps the islets from clumping together," said Ricordi, who added that this would likely translate to a need for fewer islet cells. And, he said, the design allows the researchers to add new components as they're developed and approved.
In the future, the BioHub might be in an even more natural container, such as a ti
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