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Rice University bioengineers team discover an insulin-producing implant for Type 1 diabetes supported by JDRF

Jason Martinez

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HOUSTON, TX — A Rice University bioengineers team is creating an insulin-producing implant for Type 1 diabetics using 3D printing and smart biomaterials.

This three-year project is supported by a grant from JDRF — as the leading global funder of diabetes research and a partnership between the laboratories of Omid Veiseh and Jordan Miller.

Veiseh and Miller will use insulin-producing beta cells made from human stem cells to create an implant that senses and regulates blood glucose levels by responding with the right amount of insulin at a given time.

As an assistant professor of bioengineering, Veiseh has spent over a decade developing biomaterials that protect implanted cell therapies from the immune system. Meanwhile, Miller is an associate professor of bioengineering with 15 years of experience in researching techniques to 3D print tissues with vasculature, or networks of blood vessels.

Veiseh said that if he really wants to recapitulate what the pancreas normally does, he needs vasculature. He also added “And that’s the purpose of this grant with JDRF. The pancreas naturally has all these blood vessels, and cells are organized in particular ways in the pancreas. Jordan and I want to print in the same orientation that exists in nature.”

In addition, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin — the hormone that controls blood sugar levels.

In America, there are roughly 1.6 million people live with Type 1 diabetes with more than 100 cases are diagnosed each day. Type 1 diabetes can be handled with insulin injections, but balancing insulin intake with eating, exercise and other activities is difficult. Studies estimate that less than one-third of Type 1 diabetics in the U.S. consistently achieve target blood glucose levels.

Veiseh's and Miller's aim is to show this implant can properly regulate blood glucose levels of diabetic mice for at least six months. Therefore, they’ll need to give their engineered beta cells the ability to respond to rapid changes in blood sugar levels.

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