Discover Biotech Digital Health Pharma FDA & EMA ONCOLife Contact

MIT's Implantable Device Offers Hope for Injection-Free Diabetes Treatment

Digital Health

26 September 2023

MIT engineers have designed an implantable device aimed at injection-free diabetes management. The device holds insulin-producing cells and an innovative oxygen-producing mechanism, enabling it to function effectively in the body. In tests with diabetic mice, the device maintained stable blood glucose levels for over a month. The research offers a potential new avenue for diabetes treatment.

This groundbreaking device encapsulates insulin-producing islet cells and contains an on-board oxygen factory, addressing a major limitation of previously designed implantable devices. Insulin-producing cells, when transplanted, usually stop functioning due to a lack of oxygen. This new device solves that problem by generating oxygen through the splitting of water vapor present in the body, ensuring the cells remain active and healthy. 

The study, funded by JDRF, HCT, and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"You can think of this as a living medical device that is made from human cells that secrete insulin, along with an electronic life support-system. We're excited by the progress so far, and we really are optimistic that this technology could end up helping patients," says Daniel Anderson, a professor in MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering, and the senior author of the study.

When tested on diabetic mice, the device maintained stable blood glucose levels for at least a month. The team is now working towards a version the size of a stick of chewing gum for potential human trials.

"The vast majority of diabetics that are insulin-dependent are injecting themselves with insulin, and doing their very best, but they do not have healthy blood sugar levels. If you look at their blood sugar levels, even for people that are very dedicated to being careful, they just can't match what a living pancreas can do" Anderson says.

Typically, Type 1 diabetes patients monitor their blood glucose levels and administer insulin injections daily. This process, however, doesn’t mimic the body’s natural insulin regulation. Transplanting insulin-producing cells offers a more natural solution, but such cells often face rejection by the recipient's immune system, leading patients to rely on immunosuppressive drugs.

While some experimental devices have tried addressing the oxygen supply challenge with reloadable oxygen chambers, they require frequent maintenance. The MIT solution, by contrast, uses a proton-exchange membrane, a technology typically used in fuel cells, to split water vapor into oxygen and hydrogen. The generated oxygen supports the insulin-producing cells, while the hydrogen harmlessly dissipates.

Notably, this innovative process requires no external wires or batteries. It operates on a minimal voltage generated wirelessly from a magnetic coil outside the body, which can be worn as a skin patch. After testing their quarter-sized device in diabetic mice, researchers found that mice with the oxygen-generating device maintained normal blood sugar levels. Conversely, those without the oxygen support became hyperglycemic within two weeks.

While scar tissue, a common side effect of implanting medical devices, formed around the implants, it didn't inhibit the device's efficacy. This suggests that the insulin and glucose were able to move freely in and out of the device.

This technology holds promise beyond diabetes treatment. Anderson expresses optimism about adapting these "living medical devices" to treat other conditions requiring consistent therapeutic protein delivery. For instance, the study also demonstrated the device's ability to sustain cells producing erythropoietin, a protein vital for red blood cell production.

The research, a collaborative effort between MIT and Boston Children’s Hospital, has ignited hope for a novel treatment method for diabetes and potentially other diseases. As the team gears up for larger animal trials, they anticipate a bright future, envisioning long-term devices for human use that are both effective and minimally intrusive.

Abstract of the research

A wireless, battery-free device enables oxygen generation and immune protection of therapeutic xenotransplants in vivo

Abstract The immune isolation of cells within devices has the potential to enable long-term protein replacement and functional cures for a range of diseases, without requiring immune suppressive therapy. However, a lack of vasculature and the formation of fibrotic capsules around cell immune-isolating devices limits oxygen availability, leading to hypoxia and cell death in vivo. This is particularly problematic for pancreatic islet cells that have high O2 requirements. Here, we combine bioelectronics with encapsulated cell therapies to develop the first wireless, battery-free oxygen-generating immune-isolating device (O2-Macrodevice) for the oxygenation and immune isolation of cells in vivo. The system relies on electrochemical water splitting based on a water-vapor reactant feed, sustained by wireless power harvesting based on a flexible resonant inductive coupling circuit. As such, the device does not require pumping, refilling, or ports for recharging and does not generate potentially toxic side products. Through systematic in vitro studies with primary cell lines and cell lines engineered to secrete protein, we demonstrate device performance in preventing hypoxia in ambient oxygen concentrations as low as 0.5%. Importantly, this device has shown the potential to enable subcutaneous (SC) survival of encapsulated islet cells, in vivo in awake, freely moving, immune-competent animals. Islet transplantation in Type I Diabetes represents an important application space, and 1-mo studies in immune-competent animals with SC implants show that the O2-Macrodevice allows for survival and function of islets at high densities (~1,000 islets/cm2) in vivo without immune suppression and induces normoglycemia in diabetic animals.


Related Articles


No Comments Yet!

Make a Comment!