Elliot Botvinick, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, was awarded more than $200,000 by the Iacocca Foundation to tissue engineer an implant for people with type 1 diabetes.
The current primary treatment of type 1 diabetes is the delivery of artificial insulin via injection or pump combined with careful monitoring of blood glucose levels. Botvinick and Jonathan Lakey, associate professor of surgery in UCI’s School of Medicine, are researching methods of improving the encapsulation of islet tissue. Encapsulation of islet tissue prevents direct contact between implanted cells and the host’s immune system and holds great promise as an alternative to pancreatic transplantation that does not require pharmaceutical immune suppression. The problem with current encapsulation techniques is they don’t instantaneously provide the implanted tissue with adequate blood flow.
“We have developed a strategy for pancreatic tissue transplantation borrowed from the field of civil engineering,” Botvinick states. “Specifically, our device is inspired by the development of new housing communities. A housing community is somewhat like a physiological organ, where it is the people functioning within the infrastructure that defines the community, just as an organ is made of cells functioning within the tissue.”
It is unthinkable for homeowners to arrive before the housing and infrastructure is established,” Botvinick explains. “Yet this strategy captures the current practice in pancreatic isletencapsulation. With new communities, construction workers establish the infrastructure required to sustain comfortable living, and inspections are made to insure the quality and safety of new homes. Only after inspection deems a home habitable do the homeowners move in. This inspired our two-phase design wherein the body spends weeks remodeling the device after an initial implantation, a doctor makes inspections of the device, and only when the newly formed microenvironment is deemed safe, are islet cells implanted. The move in phase is instantaneous, and islet cells are fully supported for health and function. Most importantly, the islet cells are implanted without damaging either the cells or the microenvironment. We trick the body into thinking our device is a wound, and then wait patiently as the body naturally restores blood flow. Only then, do we implant the islet cells in a fashion that disrupts neither the implant site, nor the islets.”