Protein gels are helpful in the treatment of type 1 diabetes

Microscopic image of a microgel with a protein Fas ligand on the surface Image source: Esma Yolcu

Transplanting pancreatic cells with a microgel that releases proteins onto type 1 diabetic monkeys can improve their blood sugar control and the transplanted cells are not rejected. The paper was recently published in Advances in Science.

People with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin to regulate blood sugar because their immune system mistakenly attacks islet β cells in the pancreas, which normally produce hypoglycemic hormone insulin. Transplanting islet β cells from a donor can allow type 1 diabetics to produce their own insulin, but recipients need to take immunosuppressive drugs for life to prevent the cells from being rejected. This weakens their immune system and puts them at greater risk of infection and cancer.

In search of another treatment, Ji Lei and colleagues at Harvard Medical School injected seven monkeys with a natural agent called streptozotocin, which kills islet β cells, which induces type 1 diabetes. After 12 days, the scientists removed the islets from the healthy monkeys and mixed them with the microgel. These cells and microgels were then transplanted onto the tissue layer of the monkey’s abdomen.

Four of the monkeys received a microgel filled with Fas ligands (FasL), a natural protein that kills overactive immune cells, and a protein called streptavidin (SA), which “sticks” FasL onto the microgel. The gel is mixed with islet cells beforehand, allowing it to slowly release FasL into the transplanted cells in vivo, preventing them from being rejected.

The remaining 3 monkeys received islet transplantation, along with a “hollow” microgel without FasL or SA. All 7 monkeys received supplemental insulin for the first 28 days, as well as a 3-month anti-rejection drug rapamycin.

Over the next 6 months, monkeys receiving sa-FasL microgel produced the same levels of insulin as they did before they developed diabetes, at least on an empty stomach, the researchers said. Monkeys have normal postprandial insulin secretion, 80% to 90%, so they only need a small amount of insulin supplement occasionally.

“These monkeys also had normal liver and kidney function, which suggests that this treatment is safe and there are no signs of transplant rejection.” “Usually we have to use very aggressive treatments and multiple medications, but in this case, we don’t,” Ji Lei said. ”

Four monkeys received a microgel without SA-FasL, which developed rejection of islet transplantation within weeks of surgery.

Co-author Haval Shirwan of the University of Missouri said their goal is to one day provide hospitals with a “ready-made technology” that allows surgeons to implant the microgel while transplanting islets. He hopes human trials can begin within two years. (Source: China Science Daily, Li Muzi)

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