A specially coated metal tube, no larger than a cigarette, could be the key to developing an artificial pancreas to help millions of people with diabetes avoid insulin injections, according to an article [http://pubs.acs.org/cen/science/86/8618sci4.html] scheduled for the May 5 issue of Chemical & Engineering News.
The so-called "bioartificial pancreas" also could help keep blood sugar closer to normal levels, and perhaps reduce the risk of diabetic complications, which include blindness, kidney failure, and premature death, the article suggests.
Written by Associate Editor Bethany Halford, the C&EN article points out that researchers have been trying to develop an artificial pancreas for years. Most approaches involve encapsulating healthy islet cells -- the pancreatic cells that detect glucose and release insulin -- and transplanting them into diabetic patients. But enclosing a large collection of cells has been difficult because the materials designed to hold them are not biocompatible, or optimal for use in the body, Halford notes.
The new device, developed by Joseph P. Kennedy and colleagues at the University of Akron in Ohio, is coated with a permeable polymer membrane that is key to its success. In addition to improving the exchange of insulin and glucose between the islet cells and the blood, the polymer membrane helps increase the supply of oxygen to the cells for improved function and lifespan. The device itself has already shown promise in preliminary animal studies and researchers are looking ahead to clinical trials in humans, the article notes.
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