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Beta cells in 3D

06 September 2012

JDRF- funded researchers at the Techion Israel Insitute of Technology have built pancreatic tissue surrounded by a 3D network of blood vessels.

The team, led by Professor Shulamit Levenberg grew beta cells together with cells called endothelial cells, which are also present in the pancreas. When beta cells were grown in the same surroundings as they would have in the body, they survived for longer.

The cells were grown on a special 3D scaffold connected to blood vessels giving them the oxygen and nutrients needed to survive. The researchers found that this method of growing cells encouraged the individual cells to communicate with each other as they would in the body.

At the moment, islet transplants are quite inefficient as many of the cells die during the transplant process. It is thought that one of the reasons lots of cells die is because they are disconnected from a blood supply for too long. Transplanting cells with blood vessels already in place would reduce the amount of time the cells spent without oxygen and nutrients. 

The team found that building this structure before transplant increases the islet cells chance of survival. In fact mice who received an islet transplant using this approach achieved much better glucose control than mice who received a traditional transplant.

Maebh Kelly, Research Communication Officer at JDRF said, ‘This study is an interesting approach to solving the current problem of beta cell survival. New approaches  to help beta cells survive after transplant are vital if cell replacement therapies are to become a reality for more people with type 1.’

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