A new implantable device, equipped with an integrated “oxygen factory,” could soon offer an alternative to daily insulin injections for individuals with diabetes, according to researchers.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have crafted a device about the size of a stick of chewing gum that, once implanted, could regulate blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. This device, which has undergone testing in mice, has the potential to eliminate the continuous need for monitoring blood sugar levels and self-administering insulin injections.
The researchers behind this advancement are gearing up to test its efficacy in human patients. Additionally, they believe that the device could be modified to address other diseases that necessitate frequent protein deliveries.
The study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, aimed at designing a long-lasting implantable mechanism to serve as an alternative to needing insulin. The majority of individuals with Type 1 diabetes must meticulously track their blood sugar levels and administer insulin injections daily. However, this regimen doesn’t emulate the body’s innate capacity to regulate blood sugar.
A more viable approach would be to transplant cells capable of producing insulin upon detecting elevated blood sugar levels. A number of diabetic patients have been given cell transplants from deceased donors to manage their condition. For these transplants to be effective, however, patients need concurrent administration of immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection.
Another approach to circumvent the necessity for immunosuppressive medication involves encasing the transplanted cells in a protective device that shields them from the immune system. A challenge with this strategy is ensuring a consistent oxygen supply for these safeguarded cells. Some existing mechanisms come equipped with an oxygen chamber, but it demands regular refills.
In light of this, the team from MIT endeavored to devise a device capable of producing an endless oxygen supply. They incorporated a proton-exchange membrane, a technology initially used for hydrogen production in fuel cells, within the device to separate water molecules.
This membrane divides water vapor into hydrogen, which dissipates without causing harm, and oxygen, which is stored in a chamber. This chamber then supplies the islet cells via a thin, oxygen-permeable membrane. Remarkably, this process necessitates neither wires nor batteries, relying solely on a minimal voltage of about two volts produced through “resonant inductive coupling.”