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Innovative Implantable Device Revolutionizes Diabetes Management

Implantable Device

Innovative Implantable Device Revolutionizes Diabetes Management

A groundbreaking breakthrough in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes has emerged, offering renewed hope to patients seeking freedom from routine insulin injections. The MIT engineers have ingeniously crafted an implantable device capable of housing vast quantities of insulin-producing islet cells, further enhanced by its self-sustaining oxygen generator, which harnesses water vapor found within the body.

The Solution to an Ongoing Challenge:
Traditionally, the transplantation of islet cells capable of insulin production has faced a significant challenge – the cells eventually exhaust their oxygen supply, leading to a cessation of insulin production. The MIT research team has ingeniously addressed this issue with their pioneering device.

A Glance at the Research

Upon implantation into diabetic mice, this revolutionary device demonstrated its ability to maintain stable blood glucose levels for a minimum of one month. Encouraged by these results, the researchers now aspire to create an even more compact version, approximately the size of a stick of chewing gum, for future testing in individuals afflicted with Type 1 diabetes.

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A Living Medical Device

Daniel Anderson, a prominent figure at MIT, describes this device as a “living medical device” constructed from human cells, secreting insulin in tandem with an electronic life support system. The prospect of this technology assisting patients with diabetes is brimming with promise.

Potential Beyond Diabetes

While the primary focus remains on diabetes treatment, the device’s versatility suggests applications in other conditions requiring the consistent delivery of therapeutic proteins.

Diabetes Management Evolution

Patients with Type 1 diabetes currently rely on meticulous blood glucose monitoring and frequent insulin injections, an approach that falls short of replicating the body’s natural blood glucose control mechanisms. Despite their best efforts, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels remains an elusive goal for most insulin-dependent diabetics.

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Transplantation as an Alternative

A more appealing alternative involves transplanting insulin-producing cells that respond to spikes in blood glucose levels. Some patients have received islet cell transplants from human cadavers, achieving long-term diabetes control. However, these patients must endure immunosuppressive drug regimens to avert rejection of the transplanted cells.

Encapsulation for Protection

Recent successes have been achieved with islet cells derived from stem cells. Yet, even these patients require immunosuppressive medications. An alternative solution involves encapsulating the transplanted cells within a flexible device, safeguarding them from the immune system. However, securing a reliable oxygen supply for these encapsulated cells has proven challenging.

Innovative Oxygen Supply

MIT’s approach to generating a perpetual oxygen supply involves splitting water vapor within the body, without the need for external wires or batteries. A proton-exchange membrane within the device facilitates the process, splitting water vapor into hydrogen and oxygen. The latter is stored in a chamber, feeding the islet cells via a thin, oxygen-permeable membrane.

Wireless Power Transfer

This ingenious solution relies on resonant inductive coupling, generating a small voltage (around 2 volts) through an external magnetic coil, which then transfers power to a small, flexible antenna within the device. The external coil could potentially be worn as a patch on a patient’s skin.

Testing and Results

The device, approximately the size of a U.S. quarter, was tested in diabetic mice. Mice implanted with the oxygen-generating device effectively maintained normal blood glucose levels, while those with the non-oxygenated device experienced hyperglycemia within two weeks.

Overcoming Immune Challenges

Scar tissue formation around the implants, a typical immune response, did occur in this study. However, the device’s success in controlling blood glucose levels suggests that insulin could still diffuse from the device into the bloodstream.

Expanding Possibilities

This revolutionary approach extends beyond diabetes management. It can potentially be adapted for delivering cells that produce various therapeutic proteins over extended durations. The device was also shown to sustain cells that produce erythropoietin, a protein stimulating red blood cell production.

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Future Prospects

The researchers aim to adapt the device for testing in larger animals and eventually in humans. For human applications, they envision an implant roughly the size of a stick of chewing gum. Moreover, they plan to investigate the device’s potential for long-term residence within the body.

A Promising Future

The implications of this research are profound, offering a new paradigm for diabetes treatment and the potential to address a spectrum of diseases. The researchers express great enthusiasm for the future possibilities this innovative implantable device may unlock.


This research was made possible through the generous support of JDRF, the Leona M., and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, in addition to the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health.