Encapsulation of Stem Cells as a Better Treatment for Diabetes

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One of the biggest challenges to effective treatments for diabetes has been the immunosuppression of insulin-producing cells by the immunse system. To overcome this, various protective approaches have been designed, however they have mostly failed clinically due to the difficulty in designing such materials that will not illicit adverse responses by the patient’s immune system.

A new approach to the treatment of diabetes that is more effective than what had been proposed so far has been described in a recent manuscript published last week in Nature Medicine.

Work from the lab of Dr. Daniel Anderson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology described using encapsulation of human embryonic stem cell-derived glucose-responsive mature beta cells to overcome immunosuppression commonly encountered with traditional treatments.

The encapsulation system was based on alginate beads – commonly used for encapsulating and immobilizing various types of cells – which were implanted into the intraperitoneal space of C57BL/6J mice treated with streptozotocin. The beads were chemically modified to make them more “immune system-friendly.”

And they worked.

The authors recorded no immunosuppression almost 6 months after implantation, when they removed the beads from the test mice. Some data, derived from one of the figures from the manuscript, is included below and shows healthy blood glucose levels from encapsulated cells when compared to healthy mice.


Blood glucose levels for healthy mouse and mouse treated with alginate encapsulated STZ after compared to free STZ (image from manuscript)


Encapsulation is growing as a robust approach for the delivery of various immunomodulatory and biological molecules to the body, and as this manuscript shows, there may be increasing promise of new ways of chemically and biophysically fine-tuning delivery systems to achieve clinical efficacy.

The article, titled Long-term glycemic control using polymer-encapsulated human stem cell–derived beta cells in immune-competent mice, can be accessed here.

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