Bioengineered Pancreas: A Potential Future Treatment for Diabetes


Michael Kelly

Date: 02.01.2018

According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report (2017) 30.3 million Americans were diagnosed with diabetes in 2015. That represents 9.4 % of the United States population. Diabetes remains one of the leading and costly chronic conditions to manage in the United States. According to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, it’s the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

Boasting of unenviable mortality rate and high disease burden, any scientific advancement that would alleviate diabetic patients’ way of life would be highly welcomed. Taking the bull by the horns, The University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute have bioengineered the human pancreas with an aim of restoring insulin production in patients suffering from diabetes. What makes the research interesting is the fact that patients will no longer require insulin shots to control their blood sugar levels.

About Diabetes

To appreciate the level of bioengineering feat by the University of Miami researchers, a quick introduction of the human physiology in relation to carbohydrates metabolism is highly recommended.

Diabetes is a longterm (chronic) disorder that affects carbohydrates and consequently energy production. During energy production, your body breakdown various food into simple sugar, glucose that later finds its way into the bloodstream. The control of blood glucose is controlled by insulin hormone produced by pancreatic cells.

The inability to produce enough insulin or your body failure to make use of the produced insulin it results in a state where too much glucose floats in the bloodstream. A condition that doctors describe as diabetes. A condition if not managed has numerous sequela such as kidney diseases, vision loss and can result in lower limbs amputation.

There are three major types of diabetes: gestational diabetes (affects expectant mothers) type 1 and type 2. Currently, diabetes has no known cure. Nevertheless, lifestyle changes and drug regimens have been successfully deployed in the management of diabetes.

CureFocused Research for Diabetes

The University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute has a solitary mission of finding the cure for diabetes. Period. Sticking true to its vocation, the Diabetes Research Institute have demonstrated that type 1 diabetes can be reversed by transplanting the cells that produceinsulin (islet of Langerhans) in the pancreas.

Through the aforementioned transplant patients would no longer need the periodic insulin shots to control their blood sugar. Advancing on the gains already made through their works, The University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute have bioengineered a mini organ that operates on principle as the pancreas to regulate blood sugar level in real time. The mini organ christened the DRI BioHub constitutes numerous islets of Langerhans cells that sense and consequently regulate blood glucose level.

Successful Trial

A sound theoretical treatment is only as good as it sounds if it works in practice. As it has been published in The New England Journal of Medicine, a lady patient suffering from type 1 diabetes after undergoing through islets transplant, her blood sugar levels normalize. Twelve months down the line the cells continue operating as they were intended.

Huddles That Limit Islet Transplant Therapy

Currently, the Diabetes Research Institute scientists are working round the clock to address some of the three major shortcomings that have limited the islet transplant therapy to the most serious diabetes cases. The shortfalls include:

  • The site of transplant-traditionally the targeted site has been the liver but due to the associated complications scientist have shifted focus to a fatty membrane in the belly (omentum) with great success.
  • Sustainability – restructure the recipient immune system to accept the transplant and prevent a future attack on the BioHub transplant organ.
  • Continuous supply-regenerate continuously islet of Langerhans cells that will detect blood glucose and consequently produce insulin.

    Dimmed Ray of Hope

    The Diabetes Research Institute as currently mandated offers the greatest hope for those living with type 1 diabetes to be cured in future. Nevertheless, one glaring problem that will continue haunting us is the fact that type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2. Meaning, a greater population of patients will continue suffering from the effects of diabetes even after a successful rollout of the islets transplant therapy that only targets to reverse the effects of diabetes type 1.

    This material was created specially for WorldHealthNews project by Michael Kelly.
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