New platform mimics native pancreas, contains real cells to normalize blood sugar in real time
MIAMI, Fla., March 5, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Scientists from the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) at the University of Miami are taking a quantum leap toward a biological cure for diabetes by unveiling the DRI BioHub, a bioengineered "mini organ" that contains lifesaving insulin-producing cells that can sense blood sugar and release the precise amount of insulin needed in real time. The BioHub platform mimics the native pancreas and brings the promise of restoring natural insulin production and normalizing blood sugar levels in millions living with diabetes one step closer to reality.
The DRI's research focus has been on developing a biological cure for diabetes by replacing the insulin-producing islets cells that have been mistakenly destroyed by the immune system in those with type 1 diabetes. Clinical trials have already shown that people with long-standing diabetes can achieve insulin independence after receiving infusions of islet cells from a donor organ. Some study patients continue to be insulin free for more than a decade post transplant.
However, islet transplantation has been limited to only the most severe cases of diabetes; several challenges still remain before the strategy can be offered to all who can benefit. The existing hurdles to be overcome include the need for anti-rejection drugs that patients must take for life, the eventual need for a plentiful supply of insulin-producing cells for transplant, and the identification of an optimal site within the body to house the new cells. The BioHub is a platform that addresses these challenges by drawing on recent developments in bioengineering, immunology, and decades of transplantation expertise.
Prior to their destruction by the immune system in type 1 diabetes, healthy islets thrive inside the pancreas, where they have sufficient oxygen, adequate space, and all the nutrients needed to perform the demanding job of normalizing blood sugar levels. The BioHub attempts to closely replicate the cells' natural environment and allows scientists to fine tune these cellular needs within the transplant site as never before.
"The progress in islet transplantation has been incremental and has allowed us to get to this important juncture. The BioHub gives us a tool to combine all we've learned through the years of clinical testing and take the next leap forward. I am confident that this approach could move cellular therapies and biological replacement strategies for the cure of diabetes to our final goal," says Camillo Ricordi, M.D., Stacy Joy Goodman professor of surgery and director of the Diabetes Research Institute.
Among the platforms being tested for a BioHub is a porous, sponge-like material approximately the size of a quarter that is compatible with the human body. Islet cells are gently seeded on this protective platform, allowing cells to nestle within the individual pores. Researchers are also testing the use of more natural containers, such as a patient's own vein, that can be tied off to create a "venous sac" complete with its own pre-existing vascular supply. In addition to housing transplanted insulin-producing cells, a BioHub will also allow scientists to improve upon Mother Nature perhaps by enhancing the immediate transplant environment with additional oxygen, specific types of "helper" cells or other agents to promote the cells' long-term survival and function. Additionally, a BioHub platform can be used to house not just islets, but any future insulin-producing cell type that scientists create.
"The development of a mini organ would mimic the native pancreas and restore the natural metabolic function of insulin release in immediate response to blood sugar levels-something currently unavailable to patients with diabetes," said Jay Skyler, M.D., deputy director of clinical research and academic programs at the DRI.
"If we can identify an optimal place within the body to place a BioHub, then I believe this disease is totally reversible, which has been the DRI's ultimate goal since our inception," adds Luca Inverardi, M.D., deputy director of translational research.
The components that comprise the BioHub are in various stages of development and testing, with pre-clinical trials currently underway. Research on the DRI BioHub platform is supported through numerous sources, including but not limited to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, JDRF, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, National Institutes of Health, NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), University of Miami, pharmaceutical companies, both foreign and domestic, and additional corporate and philanthropic partners. For more information on the development of the BioHub, visit www.DiabetesResearch.org/BioHub.
About the Diabetes Research Institute
The Diabetes Research Institute leads the world in cure-focused research. As the largest and most comprehensive research center dedicated to curing diabetes, the DRI is aggressively working to shrink the timeline toward the discovery of a biological cure for this disease.
The DRI has made significant contributions to the field of diabetes, pioneering many of the techniques used in diabetes centers around the world. Having already shown that diabetes can be reversed through islet transplantation, the DRI is building upon these promising outcomes by bridging cell-based therapies with emerging technologies. The DRI also collaborates with other leading researchers worldwide to develop and test new approaches to restore natural insulin production.
The Diabetes Research Institute was created for one reason – to cure diabetes – which is and will continue to be its singular focus until that goal is reached. For the millions of people affected by diabetes, the DRI is the best hope for a cure. For more information, visit DiabetesResearch.org
SOURCE Diabetes Research Institute Foundation