Transcript of Interview with Cherie Stabler, Ph.D.
The Diabetes Research Institute presents a series of reports on the latest progress in cure-focused research – promising discoveries aimed at restoring natural insulin production in those living with diabetes.
Nano-technology is hot. Used in items from computer chips … to golf clubs … to electric razors.
And now, in diabetes research.
Nano-technology is the control of matter on a tiny scale -- and the fabrication of devices within that size range.
At the Diabetes Research Institute, researchers are applying nano-scale coatings to the cells that produce insulin, called islet cells.
Scientists have been transplanting islets into patients with type 1 diabetes. But the body of the recipient wants to attack and destroy them, because they’re foreign matter.
Dr. Cherie Stabler heads the DRI’s Tissue Engineering group.
“Anytime you transplant something that’s foreign to the host, it’s going to have some sort of reaction.”
To prevent the attack, transplant recipients must take powerful anti-rejection drugs, called immunosuppressants, for life.
Those drugs suppress the entire immune system, leaving the recipient susceptible to many infections. And over time, the drugs can cause serious side effects.
So, scientists are trying to coat the islet cells with nanoscale layers, referred to as nanoencapsulation – creating a type of “camouflage,” so they won’t be noticed by the new body.
This would prevent attacks from the immune system, reduce or eliminate the need for anti-rejection drugs, and it would avoid another problem – inflammation, where the cells are implanted.
“We’re trying to protect the cells and create a better environment for them. If you can protect the cell surface and mask those expression of factors that the immune cells are going to recognize as foreign, then you’re going to be able to try and dampen or mask that immune response.”
She says it’s working in the lab.
“This has been shown in small animal models to significantly reduce the immunological response and the inflammatory response to the islets and reduce the need for some of the stronger immunosuppressive drugs.”
Stabler says while nanoencapsulation provides a very thin coating, it should be thick enough.
“You’re still going to prevent direct cell contact, so you won’t have immune cells that are able to directly attack the islet.”
One advantage of the thin coating is that nutrients are able to reach the islet cells. They need the nutrients to survive. And, islets will be able to manage blood glucose levels.
“Glucose is going to move towards the islets very quickly. The islet’s going to be able to respond and secrete insulin very efficiently.”
She says the thin coating will also reduce the amount of inflammation that usually occurs where the islets are placed.
“So you start off this inflammatory response. That inflammatory response instigates further immune response, so by using these coatings we’re trying to mask that inflammatory response.”
Stabler and her team are focusing on making more stable protective layers, that will not degrade over time.
They’re also collaborating with a world-renowned scientist in biomaterials, Dr. Jeffrey Hubbell of Switzerland, to further expand the types of materials they use to create the capsules.
Until now, scientists have focused on “camouflaging” the islet cells – so the host’s immune system will not recognize them.
Now, Dr. Stabler and her team are trying to coat the islet cells so they can actually defend themselves.
“Instead of just hiding and saying, ‘I’m not here,’ saying, ‘Okay, I am here because you’re going to recognize me anyway, but I’m going to have something on the surface of this material that’s going to interact with you to either tell you to go away or to transfer that response to something that’s more positive.”
Stabler says DRI is ideal environment to pursue this kind of work – because of the many disciplines found under one roof – and the unique spirit of collaboration between them.
“I’ve always been of the mindset that scientists cannot work as an island. You can’t try and develop something that’s going to be novel and innovative and easily translatable to the clinic by working in an isolated environment. And so many scientists work that way. It’s completely different here.
"At the DRI everyone interacts together. It’s a group effort. That kind of interaction is amazing to have, and the ability to come to the DRI and have that was such an easy choice to make.”
This has been a production of the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation.
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