A study looking at how the immune system responds to implanted devices such as continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) could help improve future technologies for people with type 1 diabetes.
It is one of the first studies to have looked at how the immune system can affect the function of implantable devices.
At the moment, CGMs and infusion sets for insulin pumps must be changed regularly. This is because the immune response causes scar tissue where the devices are inserted, and eventually prevents the devices from calculating blood glucose levels or delivering insulin.
Another technology of the future being trailed at the moment is islet cell encapsulatio, which involves implanting a capsule of living islet cells under the skin.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Boston Children’s Hospital wanted to understand more about why the body rejects implantable devices.
In a bid to find a solution, they focused on how the body reacts to the materials commonly used in implantable devices.
In studying rodents, the research team found that certain materials such as ceramic, polymer and hydrogel, affected the immune responses significantly.
Specifically, the materials increased the immune response from a protein called colony stimulating factor-1 receptor (CSF1R). Subsequent experiments showed that targeting CSF1R reduced the need for immunosuppression following implantation of the materials.
Senior author Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s department of chemical engineering, said these findings could potentially help scientists to find a way to control the immune response following implantation.
“This gives us a better understanding of the biology behind fibrosis and potentially a way to modulate that response to prevent the formation of scar tissue around implants,” Anderson said.
The study, which was funded by the type 1 research charity JDRF and the Helmsley Charitable Trust, has been published in the journal Nature Materials.
Dr Aaron Kowalskin, JDRF’s chief mission officer, said: “For people with type 1 diabetes, these advances could help improve insulin pump infusion sets, continuous glucose monitors and encapsulation therapies.
“By understanding how to target and prevent unnecessary immune responses to the materials used in medical devices, we can provide therapies that work more effectively and with fewer negative side effects.”

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