Prof. Jayesh Bellare from the core faculty of Chemical Engineering department of IIT Bombay in 2008 started a very ambitious project to develop a bio-artificial pancreas that can be implanted into the body to help to combat diabetes.
The problem they faced was that bio-artificial implantations like these were rejected by the body as these “foreign objects” will trigger an immune response, causing the immune system to attack the pancreas itself.
To overcome the problem, the researcher made these patented hollow fibre membranes using a polymer called polysulfone. “The hollow fibre membrane is a narrow tube about 1 mm in diameter with pores in the wall,” explains Prof. Jayesh Bellare to Research Matters.
“The advantage of our hollow fibre membrane is that it supports the cells to grow by mimicking the extracellular matrix in which the cells naturally grow, and simultaneously, allows insulin to reach the patient while preventing an immune reaction from cells if they are of foreign origin,” adds Prof. Bellare.
This membrane is as thin as a thread and can sit on or near the pancreas later, activating itself and secreting insulin. The hollow membrane hosts pancreatic cells that secrete insulin through its permeable walls.
The researchers have tested the device with both human stem cells derived from the umbilical cord, as well as islet cells from pig pancreas. “For the first time, we have successfully encapsulated human stem cells, and porcine cells in our novel and patented material,” states Prof. Bellare.
These implants were placed for 30 days in diabetic mice, and no abnormalities were found. Significantly, blood vessels were seen growing on the cells of the implants, suggesting that the immune system accepted the implant.
Over the past decade, diabetes has become a universal problem and India alone is home to over 60 million adults with diabetes. Diabetic patients, especially type 1 patients, suffer from the inability to produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is also commonly seen in children.
The developed technology can bid goodbye to conventional diabetic pills and insulin. The one-time operation could solve the epidemic of diabetes. But the ten-year research is only the beginning. From carrying out long-term tests in mice to successful human trials, this technology can prove to be a gateway for many similar implants.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)