A team of researchers recently suggested that building a new pancreas is possible when unused human pancreata is the “hardware” for a new organ. The study, titled “The Human Pancreas as a Source of Protolerogenic Extracellular Matrix Scaffold for a New-generation Bioartificial Endocrine Pancreas,” was published in the journal Annals of Surgery.
Patients with type 1 diabetes, characterized by the destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, are obliged to take insulin injections in order to regulate their blood sugar levels. Pancreas transplant could be a potential therapeutic for these patients, however, there is a lack of suitable pancreas donors. In fact, around 25% of the recovered human pancreata (approximately 1,300) are unsuitable for transplant.
A team of regenerative medicine researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine decided to investigated a new approach: to build new bioartificial pancreas from organ donors’ pancreata. Researchers performed this approach in 25 human pancreata.
The procedure’s first step was to wash the discarded organs with a mild detergent to remove all cells. Researchers observed that blood vessels remained intact, as well as key growth factors (important for blood vessel formation, cell proliferation, and glucose metabolism) after the cells’ removal. Next, the team investigated whether these structures could be re-populated with a patient’s own cells. When researchers populated the decellularized structures with insulin producing and endothelial cells, they found that the structures allowed the cells to attach, function, and maintain their original cell type. The team found that these structures also allowed the growth of blood vessels, with new blood vessels forming once the cell-coated pancreata structures were introduced in chicken eggs.
A key concern in transplants is the potential rejection by the host immune system. Remarkably, researchers observed that the bio-artificial structures not only weren’t rejected, but they actually regulated the immune response.
Giuseppe Orlando, MD, PhD, the study’s lead author and a transplant surgeon and regenerative medicine researcher, said in a press release, “We see these unused organs as potential ‘hardware.’ The ‘software’ would be the patient’s own cells, so that there would be no issues with rejection. We believe this research represents the first critical step toward a fully human-derived artificial pancreas.”
“The early results are encouraging and pave the way for further investigations to understand the interactions between the organ structures and cells, and to identify the optimal cell type to achieve complete regeneration of the endothelium and islets,” concluded Dr. Orlando. The team believes that this strategy could be considered a platform for the development of regenerative medicine-inspired bioartificial endocrine pancreas for patients with diabetes.