New Swedish research develops eye implants that may treat diabetes
Swedish researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Karolinska Institutet have developed a 3D-printed eye implant capable of encapsulating insulin-producing pancreatic cells and electronic sensors.
The researchers designed the wedge-shaped implant to release insulin-producing cells when needed. Since the device can be positioned in the eye without sutures, it could transform cell-based treatment for diabetes and other diseases.
“The eye is, as we say, the ‘only window into the body’ where we can noninvasively monitor the transplant,” said Anna Herland, a senior lecturer in the Division of Bionanotechnology at SciLifeLab at KTH and the AIMES research center at KTH and Karolinska Institutet about why the eye is an ideal organ for implantation technology. It also lacks immune cells that could mount a negative response during the early stages of implantation.
In the study published in Advanced Materials, the researchers placed the 240-micrometre-long device in the eye’s anterior chamber. In tests conducted on mice, the device maintained its position for several months and the pancreatic cells functioned normally.
“Cell transplants hold the promise of curing the disease and thereby avoiding lifelong treatments and the severe consequences of the disease. New technologies are, however, needed to drive the development of cell therapies for diabetes efficiently,” Herland said.
Micro-implant solution for insulin production
Half a billion adults worldwide live with diabetes. In Europe, one in 11 adults live with diabetes, and over one in three have undiagnosed diabetes. In 2021, there were 1.1 million deaths In Europe alone from this chronic condition that prevents the body from producing or using insulin properly.
To treat diabetes with the implant, the researchers used pancreatic islets, also known as islets of Langerhans, to help restore insulin production. The implant will deliver microorganisms via a micro-cage with a “flap door technique” to release them.
Harland said the technology overcomes a key obstacle to cell therapies, including those for diabetes. There is no need for invasive methods to monitor the graft’s function and guide care.
“Ours is a first step towards advanced medical microdevices that can both localize and monitor the function of cell grafts. Our design will enable future integration and use of more advanced device functions such as integrated electronics or drug release,” Herland added.
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