Implantable Device Could Free People with Diabetes from Daily Injections: Study

Researchers at MIT have developed an innovative implantable device to treat Type 1 diabetes. The device houses insulin-producing islet cells and includes an onboard oxygen factory that generates oxygen from water vapour in the body. When implanted in diabetic mice, the device maintained stable blood glucose levels for at least a month. The team aims to create a smaller version of the device for human testing.

The device, described as a “living medical device,” combines human cells that produce insulin with an electronic life support system. It has the potential to revolutionize diabetes treatment by mimicking the body’s natural ability to control blood sugar levels.

Current diabetes management involves daily insulin injections, but this method often falls short in achieving healthy blood sugar levels. Transplanting islet cells from human cadavers or stem cells has shown promise, but patients require immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection.

MIT’s device offers a promising solution. It encapsulates islet cells within a flexible device, protecting them from the immune system. Unlike previous attempts, this device doesn’t require external reloading of oxygen chambers or chemical reagents.

Wireless power transfer, using a small voltage generated through resonant inductive coupling, supplies power to the device through a magnetic coil placed externally on the patient’s skin. In mouse trials, the device with oxygen generation maintained normal blood glucose levels, while the non-oxygenated version led to hyperglycemia within two weeks.

Though scar tissue formed around the implants, the device remained effective in controlling blood glucose levels, suggesting insulin diffusion continued. Beyond diabetes treatment, this approach could deliver other therapeutic proteins over extended periods.

The team’s goal is to develop living medical devices that reside in the body and produce drugs as needed, potentially transforming treatment for various diseases. MIT’s groundbreaking research offers hope for a new approach to treating not only diabetes but also other conditions requiring long-term therapeutic protein delivery.

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