Type 1 diabetes has long been considered a life-changing illness, with treatments geared towards detection and management. While a cure for the illness is still considered to be a long way off, the 3D printing method of bioplotting may offer patients a new treatment option that could ease diabetes management and improve the quality of life for many. Researchers have 3D printed a structure that helps protect insulin-generating cells that are implanted into the pancreas. Here’s why that's important.
For those of us who don’t have a type 1 diabetic among our friends and family, we might onlyy know to give someone who is hypoglycemic a glass of orange juice and then call someone who actually knows what’s going on. Hypoglycemia happens when a type 1 diabetic’s glucose levels get too low. It can cause dizziness and sweating in the beginning; if not addressed, it can lead to the person passing out or even dying. About one third of type 1 diabetics suffer from hypoglycemia.
One treatment option available to type 1 diabetics to reduce the instances of hypoglycemia is to undergo pancreatic islet transplantation. Clusters of cells are translated from the pancreas of a healthy volunteer into the person with diabetes. It’s an effective treatment, but a common and uncomfortable side effect is attack on the foreign cells by the patient’s immune system. Patients then must take consistent doses of immunosuppressant drugs to prevent the body from rejecting and attacking the donor cells. Now, a new option is available ti protect these cells, thanks to research in 3D printing.
3D Printed Scaffolding
Dr. AA van Apeidoorn and colleagues of the University of Twente just published groundbreaking research in the journal Institute of Physics. They developed a type of 3D printed scaffolding that can protect the cells from the body’s immune system, and giving them a better chance of functioning properly once in the body.
So far, the scaffolds haven’t made it out of the petri dish, but still the results are promising. Researchers tested the scaffolding around islet cells in the lab, and found that cells with the scaffolding were just as functional and able to do their job as those without it. Since the scaffolding doesn’t appear to affect how well the cells function, it may become a safe alternative to immunosuppressant drugs to protect these cells.
Co-author Dr. van Apeidoorn said in the paper, ”If we are to improve the success of this treatment for type 1 diabetes, we need to create an implant in which islets are embedded, or encapsulated, from a material that allows for very efficient oxygen and nutrient supply, and quick exchange of glucose and insulin, while keeping the host cells out.”
Although it’s too early to tell how or when type 1 diabetics might be able to benefit from the bioplotted scaffolding in clinical trials, the researchers are eager to take the research to the next stage.
"Our future research will look further into recreating an optimal islet microenvironment to provide the donor islets with the best transplantation start possible," said van Apeidoorn.
Photo Credits: 3ders.org