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Bioengineering a “Mini-Pancreas” for Insulin Production

Scientists at the Diabetes Research Institute are testing different versions of a platform for islet transplantation that could eliminate the need for insulin therapy for type 1 diabetes patients. The platform, known as the DRI BioHub, is a bioengineered “mini organ” that mimics the native pancreas and contains insulin-producing cells that can sense blood sugar and release the precise amount of insulin needed. The version currently being tested is a biodegradable scaffold, which was approved by the FDA for Phase I/II clinical trials. It’s formed using a gel-like substance created from the patient’s own plasma and clinical-grade thrombin, and engineered onto the surface of the omentum.

Previous studies involving islet transplantation have shown that the transplanted insulin-producing cells can function long term. Some study patients were even able to forgo insulin injections for more than 10 years. The new research draws on advancements in bioengineering and immunology to help find the optimal transplantation site in the body, as well as the best type of platform for hosting the islet cells.