Using scaffolding technology to improve islet graft outcomes in patients with type 1 diabetes

December 2, 2019

JDRF has supported research in beta cell replacement for more than a decade, aiming to make a stem cell-based treatment for type 1 diabetes (T1D) a reality. The goal is to enable a large number of people with T1D to benefit from a procedure similar to islet transplantation, whereby transfer of donor-derived islets enables long-term insulin independence in some patients. Using a renewable stem cell source would overcome the reliance on donor islets for the procedure, opening up the possibility of treating far more patients than is currently feasible.

Another challenge in developing this approach as a long-lasting treatment for T1D is ensuring optimum survival and function of the transplanted cells. In recent years, researchers have worked diligently to make islet transplants more successful through the use of ‘scaffolding’ technology. A scaffold is an artificial structure capable of supporting three-dimensional tissue formation.

Dr. Purushothaman Kuppan, a JDRF-funded investigator at the University of Alberta, is developing a new, modifiable scaffold device designed to increase islet graft survival and function among people with T1D, which would improve transplantation outcomes and also reduce or eliminate the need for systemic immunosuppressive drugs.

On the basis of work carried out by his mentor, Dr. Gregory Korbutt, Dr. Kuppan and his colleagues are using an innovative approach to construct a retrievable, bioactive, 3D porous scaffold that will permit the creation of well-vascularized and oxygenated transplant sites outside of the liver – the common transplant site for islets – while simultaneously incorporating proteins to help keep the cells healthy. The device will be further adapted to locally secrete immunosuppressive agents to protect transplanted cells from rejection.

As part of this project, Dr. Kuppan will determine whether pre-implantation of the scaffold creates ideal conditions to support islet transplantation, compared with implantation of islets and the scaffold simultaneously. Through this JDRF-funded work, he is hopeful that this promising technology will be used as a key component of beta cell replacement therapy for T1D in the future.

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