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Encapsulated human stem cell–derived beta cells: Promising treatment for Type I diabetes?

Sep 12, 2016 9:11:02 AM / by Stacy Matthews Branch, DVM, PhD

Human stem cells treatment for type 1 diabetes.The challenge to effectively and safely restore proper control of blood glucose (sugar) levels (referred to as glycemic control) in people with diabetes is ongoing. The standard treatment for type 1 diabetes remains to be proper monitoring of blood glucose levels with daily insulin injections. However, patient compliance often limits its effectiveness. Pancreas transplantation is associated with limited donor tissue availability and with side effects due to the immune system suppression needed to reduce the risk of tissue rejection.

Transplanting cells that are responsive to glucose and produce insulin could relieve the shortcomings with current treatments for type 1 diabetes. The cells with promise are insulin-producing cells that are derived from human embryonic stem cells (called SC-β cells). The abundant availability of these cells would solve the problem of limited transplant tissue access.

The donor SC-β cells can be encased in a protective material so that they are not attacked by the immune system. In a study using mice, the SC-β cells were encased in a chemically modified material derived from the cell walls of algae (alginate). Experimental mice were made to develop type 1 diabetes and the encased SC-β cells were implanted.

Lower numbers of immune cells (e.g., CD8+ T cells, macrophages, neutrophils) were found to be associated with the encasing material used. Other immune cells such as cytotoxic T cells, B cells, and dendritic cells were in the regions of the encased donor cells, but were not able to act on or attack them. After more than six months with the implants, glycemic control and blood glucose responsiveness was restored in the mice without the need for immunosuppression. The degree of glycemic control was found to reach levels that are considered therapeutic.

The results show that, unlike plain alginate, the chemically modified alginate material resists host immune responses. These results provide the basis of a possible future treatment method that can achieve long-term type 1 diabetes donor therapy that does not require immunosuppression. Studies in humans are needed to determine if this approach could be a safe, long-term alternative for people with type 1 diabetes.

At HemaCare, we think research efforts like these are of immense importance to those with diabetes. We offer customizable dendritic cells and cytotoxic T cells to cost-effectively further your research. Please contact us at (877) 397-3087 or visit us online at

Vegas, Arturo J et al. "Long-Term Glycemic Control Using Polymer-Encapsulated Human Stem Cell–Derived Beta Cells In Immune-Competent Mice". Nature Medicine 22.3 (2016): 306-311. Web.

Topics: Cytotoxic T Cells, Dendritic Cells, Stem Cells, Blood Disorders, Metabolic Disorders

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