Researchers Show Novel Material Encapsulated Human Islet Cells Can Halt Type 1 Diabetes for Six Months

Two new studies provide important insight into possible new therapy for type 1 diabetes without immunosuppressant drugs. 
New York, NY, January 25, 2016 – Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston Children’s Hospital, and several other institutions supported with JDRF funding have shown encapsulated human islet cells transplanted into mice can effectively halt type 1 diabetes (T1D) for up to six months without causing an immune response. The findings are reported in two studies published today in Nature Medicine and Nature Biotechnology.

The Nature Biotechnology study details a newly modified alginate material designed to encapsulate human pancreatic islet cells. Alginate, a material originally derived from brown algae, has previously been used to encapsulate cells without harming them or preventing them from sensing and responding to biological signals (for example, by releasing insulin). However, an immune response leads to the build-up of scar tissue around the unmodified alginate capsules over time, making them ineffective.

The MIT researchers aimed to modify alginate to prevent it from triggering this immune response. They created a library of nearly 800 alginate derivatives and evaluated the immune response to each of them, ultimately focusing on one called triazole-thiomorpholine dioxide (TMTD), which provoked minimal immune response in mice and large animal models.

The researchers then implanted human islet cells encapsulated in TMTD in mice with a strong immune system in a further study described in the second paper in Nature Medicine. The cells used in the study were generated from human stem cells developed by Douglas Melton. Following implantation, the cells immediately began producing insulin in response to blood glucose levels and were able to maintain blood glucose within a healthy range for 174 days, the length of the study.

“Encapsulation therapies have the potential to be groundbreaking for people with T1D. These treatments aim to effectively establish long-term insulin independence and eliminate the daily burden of managing the condition for months, possibly years, at a time without the need for immune suppression,” said JDRF Vice President of Discovery Research Julia Greenstein.

“JDRF is excited by these findings and we hope to see this research progress into human clinical trials and ultimately a potential new T1D therapy,” she said.

“We are excited by these results, and are working hard to advance this technology to the clinic,” said Dr. Anderson, senior author on the papers.

Whilst it is early days for this project the Diabetes Ireland Research Alliance are very pleased with the continuing results and are excited to see a project that could potentially lead to a new treatment that will eliminate the need to manage the condition for long periods of time.

About Diabetes Ireland Research Alliance

The Diabetes Research Alliance was set up in 2008 as a subsidiary of Diabetes Ireland, the national charity supporting people with diabetes in Ireland. The Diabetes Research Alliance has the specific aim of promoting, supporting and funding research related to the causes, prevention and cure of diabetes.

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About JDRF
JDRF is the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. Our mission is to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat T1D and its complications. To accomplish this, JDRF has invested nearly $2
billion in research funding since our inception. We are an Organization built on a grassroots model of people connecting
in their local communities, collaborating regionally for efficiency and broader fundraising impact, and uniting on a national stage to pool resources, passion, and energy. We collaborate with academic institutions, policymakers, and corporate and industry partners to develop and deliver a pipeline of innovative therapies to people living with T1D. Our staff and volunteers in more than 100 locations throughout the United States and our six international affiliates are
dedicated to advocacy, community engagement and our vision of a world without T1D.

For more information on JDRF, please visit or follow us on Twitter: @JDRF.