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Hydrogel developed that could improve islet cell transplantation

A hydrogel has been developed that could provide protection against cell rejection in islet cell transplantation.

Islet cell transplantation is an exciting treatment for type 1 diabetes that can help people become insulin independent for several years. However, cell rejection remains a significant obstacle, which occurs when transplanted tissue – designed to kick-start insulin production – struggles to overcome the immune system reaction that characterises type 1 diabetes.

Scientists from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have been working on coating insulin-producing cells from human donors in a semi-permeable gel that protects them from immune attack.

One of the drawbacks of islet cell transplantation is that participants end up on immunosuppressive drugs, which can weaken the immune system, but this gel can bypass the need for the drugs to be administered.

The gel forms the equivalent of a cocoon that protects the cells from inflammatio, while one of the compounds in the gel helps to release the insulin steadily.

EPFL have now licensed their hydrogel product to Cell-Caps, a Geneva-based start-up which specialises in cell encapsulation for treating type 1 diabetes.

As well as pancreatic islet cell transplants, the technology has potential applications for different clinical fields, such as the treatment of liver failure.

Sandrine Gerber, a co-author of the study, said that it may still be several years before the gel is trialled in clinical studies.

“We’ll need to complete further tests to gauge the gel’s long haul execution. We’ll likewise require a progressively dependable wellspring of transplantable cells that we can repeat. It could be another five or even eight years before the gel is utilized in clinical settings.”

The findings have been published in the journal ACS Applied Polymer Materials.

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