Pitt Engineering Research Could Advance Experimental Type 1 Diabetes Treatment

Sep 19, 2017

For more than one million Americans with Type 1 Diabetes, managing the condition involves daily shots of insulin and closely watching their diets.

An experimental transplant of special cell clusters, called pancreatic islets, could offer longer term relief, but those cells are in short supply.

“The main function of these islets are to sense blood glucose and secrete insulin in response to blood glucose,” said Ipsita Banerjee, a professor of Chemical and Bio-engineering at Pitt and principal investigator in the study.

University of Pittsburgh researchers are leading a multi-university study that will try to help overcome this shortage, and that's where induced pluripotent stem cells come in to play. These cells are taken from adults and then genetically manipulated so they have the potential to transform into any kind of cell in the body. 

(Left to Right) Researchers Nadine Humphrey, Thomas Richardson and Connor Wiegand with Ipsita Banerjee at the Banerjee Lab.
Credit Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

Banerjee is working to identify what combination of factors, such as nutrients and oxygen levels, will drive the stem cells to transform into the pancreatic islet cells.

“We should be able to mass produce these islets, and actually, we have another grant where we are primarily looking into how to mass produce pluripotent stem cells,” said Banerjee.

The National Institutes of Health reported that in clinical trials, more than half of patients have been able to go off insulin for two weeks at a time within the first year. However, most patients do eventually have to revert to daily insulin injections.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved certain hospitals to perform experimental transplants of pancreatic islets from deceased donors to type 1 diabetes patients, but the pool of donors is limited.