A 'Mini-Organ' Delivering Real Insulin in Real Time
The DRI BioHub is a bioengineered “mini organ” that mimics the native pancreas. It contains real insulin-producing cells that can sense blood sugar and release the precise amount of insulin needed -- in real time.
To the millions living with diabetes, the DRI BioHub brings the promise of natural insulin production and normal blood sugar levels one step closer to reality. You can support the DRI's research toward developing the BioHub here.
Building on success
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly destroys insulin-producing “islet” cells in the pancreas. The DRI’s focus is to develop a biological cure by replacing those cells.
In clinical trials, our scientists have transplanted islet cells from donor organs into patients with long-standing type 1 diabetes. As a result, recipients achieve insulin independence. Some patients continue to be insulin free for more than a decade after the transplant.
However, islet transplantation has been limited to only the most severe cases of diabetes. Several challenges must be overcome before this strategy can be offered to all who can benefit.
The existing hurdles include:
- Supply – the need for more insulin-producing cells for transplant
- Sustainability – the need for the recipient to accept the cells long-term, without the need for anti-rejection drugs
- Site – the identification of an optimal site within the body to house the new cells
Addressing the challenges
The BioHub platform addresses these challenges by drawing on recent developments in bioengineering, immunology, and decades of transplantation expertise.
Prior to their destruction by the immune system in type 1 diabetes, healthy islets thrive inside the pancreas, where they have sufficient oxygen, adequate space, and all the nutrients needed to perform the demanding job of normalizing blood sugar levels.
The BioHub attempts to closely replicate the cells’ natural environment and allows scientists to fine tune these cellular needs within the transplant site as never before.
DRI scientists are currently testing a "biodegradable scaffold" as a platform for a DRI BioHub.
Enhancing the environment
In addition to housing transplanted insulin-producing cells, a BioHub will also allow scientists to enhance the immediate transplant environment with additional oxygen, specific types of “helper” cells or other agents to promote the cells’ long-term survival and function.
Additionally, a BioHub platform can be used to house not just islets, but any future insulin-producing cell type that scientists create.
The components that comprise the BioHub are in various stages of development and testing.