For a long time, researchers have been trying to find ways to create an artificial pancreas in the laboratory, as this would be able to help the multitudes of people who are suffering from type 1
A recent study shows though that the answer to this might be found in “recycling” pancreata that aren’t used which are from organ donors.
In an article published in the Annals of Surgery, scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine report on the possibility of using human pancreata as “hardware” to create artificial ones. The pancreas is a large gland located near the stomach and is responsible for the secretion of insulin that maintains the level of glucose and other nutrients.
At present, around 1,300 pancreata have been donated for use in organ transplants, and around 25% of these cannot be used because of defects and many other reasons.
Giuseppe Orlando, M.D., Ph.D., who is the lead author of the study and a transplant surgeon and regenerative medicine researcher, claims that these unused organs can be potentially used as “hardware”, and the “software” would be the patient’s own cells. This would thereby overcome issues of the new pancreas being rejected by the patient’s body. “We believe that this research represents the first critical step toward a fully human-derived artificial pancreas,” he adds.
Pancreata for Diabetes
Most patients who have type 1 diabetes currently require injections of insulin because their bodies cannot produce enough insulin to maintain their blood sugar levels. Other than this, options such as pancreas transplant are not usually recommended because of the lack of donors as well as the toxic effects of anti-rejection medicine. In the case of the U. S., in every 10,000 patients who have type 1 diabetes, only 3 will receive a transplant in their lifetime.
The main objective of the study was to determine whether pancreata from organ donors could be used as platforms for creating new artificial bio-pancreas. In the study, 25 discarded organs were first washed in a mild detergent to remove the cells, in a process called decellularization. This is similarly used in efforts to produce kidneys, livers and other organs. After decellularization, blood vessels still remained intact, and numerous growth factors, some of which are involved in blood vessel formation, cell proliferation and glucose metabolism, still remained in the structures.
Theoretically, these structures could be filled with a patient’s own cells. For example, skin cells or pancreatic cells could be used to produce insulin-producing cells. In order to test compatibility, the researchers tried placing insulin-producing and endothelial cells on the organ structures, and for both, the structures did not reject the cells and still allowed them to function properly.
Also, in order to check whether the structures were able to produce new blood vessels, they implanted portions of the structures into chicken eggs. The structures were able to successfully integrated and form capillaries.
Lastly, the researchers also checked if the organ structures would be naturally rejected by the immune system. To their surprise, the structures were actually able to regulate the immune response, which indicates that the artificial pancreata could actually be also used as adjuvant immunosuppressants.
Orlando says that their study opens doors for future investigations regarding interactions between organ
structures and cells, as well as studies that aim to find the optimal cell type for complete regeneration of epithelial and islet cells.
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