Research at the University of Brighton has demonstrated how specially-designed biochips can be used to replace whole pancreas transplantation and support the tests of new drugs for diabetes – bringing hope to millions of people with diabetes around the world.
Diabetes is caused by insufficient or lack of insulin and the experiments have shown that engineered ‘biochips’ – made of pancreatic cells and vascular cells held together by biomimetic biomaterials – can produce insulin in response to high levels of glucose.
Professor Matteo Santin, the University’s Professor of Tissue Regeneration and Director of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Devices (CRMD), said it was hoped the research will lead to new and more effective treatments for people with diabetes and will help solve the problem of organ donors’ shortage.
The biochips, he said, have the ability to encourage commercially-available, poor insulin-producing cell lines of the pancreas to produce more insulin when needed: “This happens when the cells are integrated in the developed biochip and not in other conventional culturing conditions.”
Professor Santin, working with Research Fellow Valeria Perugini and a team of scientists on ‘Nano Engineering for Cross Tolerance’ (NEXT) research, have been funded to the tune of €6m by the European Commission (EU).
The EU’s Community Research and Development Information Service publication this month reported on the research: “The perspective of lifetime drug administration or insulin infusion is, to say the least, demoralising. And it gets worse for those diabetic patients who don’t respond to insulin administration or don’t experience symptoms of hypoglycemia: They are left with either organ or cadaveric pancreatic islet transplantation options, both suffering from a shortage of donors and limited lifespan.”
Overcoming these problems is the aim of NEXT and the project’s biomaterials, developed at the CRMD, are considered one of its most important breakthroughs.
Professor Santin said: “If all goes as planned, NEXT technology could also expand the current clinical procedure of pancreatic islet transplantation to the use of animal tissues and not only cadaveric specimens.
“The technology will enable the establishment of cell banks to be used for the production of immunoprotected biochips, thus solving the problem of donor shortage and immune reactions upon transplantation. We are also developing these biochips in organ-on-chip devices for the reliable testing of new drugs. These devices are expected to reduce the need for animal experimentation.”