Islet-on-a-Chip device set to transform islet cell transplantation in type 1 diabetes

Jack Woodfield
Fri, 30 Aug 2019
Islet-on-a-Chip device set to transform islet cell transplantation in type 1 diabetes
A new device which makes it easier to perform islet cell transplantation has been created, called 'Islet-on-a-Chip'.

Developed by Harvard University, Islet-on-a-Chip will make it easier for experts to screen for insulin-producing cells before they are transplanted into a person.

The device was inspired by fully functioning human pancreases - which produces our body's insulin - and could dramatically speed up the testing process by providing results in real time, speeding up clinical decision making.

Islet cell transplantation is where groups of insulin-producing cells are taken from a donor pancreas and transplanted into someone with type 1 diabetes. Earlier this year, transplantation was shown to lead to near-normal blood glucose levels without external insulin being administered up to 10 years after transplantation.

All cells before transplantation must be tested to ensure they work properly. But at the moment the current process is so cumbersome that many clinicians give up carrying it out anyway. This newly created device, however, changes that.

Professor Kevin Kit Parker, Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Harvard, said: "The Islet-on-a-Chip lets us monitor how donated or manufactured islet cells are releasing insulin, as cells in the body can.

"That means we can make serious headway towards cell therapies for diabetes. The device makes it easier to screen drugs that stimulate insulin secretion, test stem cell-derived beta cells, and study the fundamental biology of islets. There is no other quality-control technology out there that can do it as fast, and as accurately."

A patent has now been filed for the device and Harvard are exploring how they may be able to bring the device to market.

Co-author of the study, Michael Roper of Florida State University, whose lab focuses on the fundamental biology of islets, said: "It was exciting to see our lab's method for measuring islet function taken forward from individual cells to much bigger groups of cells, and incorporated into a device that can be used widely in the community.

"Now, we have a device that integrates glucose delivery, islet positioning and capture, reagent mixing, and insulin detection, and requires far fewer reagents. So labs can use it to do more experiments at the same cost, using a much shorter and easier process."

The results have been published in the journal Lab on a Chip.
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