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Nanotechnology Holds Promise for a Cure   

by Diabetes Research Institute on Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 9:56am on T1 Diabetes Cure - Global Headquarters and Diabetes Research Institute Facebook pages.

A d-mom and friend of the DRI posted an interesting question on the wall of our Facebook page, and we were happy to answer it!

Is there any future for nanotechnology and diabetes in terms of a cure? How could the two intermingle biologically speaking?

Nanotechnology is an emerging field that has tremendous potential to significantly advance our toolbox for treating and curing diseases. In the development of medical advancements, particularly in diabetes, there are several avenues of which nanotechnology could substantially accelerate progress. While you would think that diminishing the scale of something to such a small level would result in parallel decreases in activity, the shifting of tools to the nano-scale, for many cases, can substantially enhance their power. Given the scale of cells, having the ability to interact with these cells at the nano-scale opens new avenues where researchers can target, label, interact, and direct cells.

Of particular interest is the use of nanoparticles to interact with immune cells, where researchers are beginning to understand how to direct immune cells through the use of nanoparticles coated with cues that communicate with these cells (great reviews: Dobrovolskaia, et al, Nature Nanotech 2, 2007, Zolnik et al, Endocrinology, 151, 2010, and Reddy, et al, Trends Immunol 27(12) 2006). By presenting specific cues to immune cells via nanoparticles, not only can specific cells be targeted, but those cells can be subsequently directed to attack a specific antigen, which is desirable for vaccine development, or directed to accept a specific antigen, which is desirable for tolerance or to prevent/treat autoimmune disorders.

In terms of prevention of Type 1 diabetes, there are several emerging applications that are very exciting and encouraging. The use of nanoparticles for Type 1 diabetes has already shown promise in small animal studies, with studies illustrating prevention in the progression of Type 1 Diabetes in a mouse model and the potential to intricately design particles to modulate autoimmunity (e.g. see Tsai, S. et al, Immunity, 32(4), 2010 and Keselowsky, et al, Hum Vaccin, 7(1) 2011). Obviously translating these studies to the clinic is a process, but the promise is great.

We could also harness the same technology to enhance the acceptance of a new islet graft. At the DRI, we are investigating methods for tethering cues to nanoparticles to engineer acceptance of islet allografts, with the goal to minimize the need for immunosuppressive agents.

Besides targeting immune cells for directing them, nanoparticles can also be loaded with immunosuppressive agents, permitting for the targeting and subsequent suppression of these immune cells. Through the use of nanoparticles, local delivery of these agents is feasible, given that these tiny particles have the capacity to be injected right under the skin and migrate to the local lymph node. In this manner, potent immunosuppressive agents can be targeted to where they are most needed, at the local lymph, instead of delivered to the entire body (see Integr Biol, 1(7) 2009 and Nature Biotech 25(10) 2007). This targeted approach, pioneered by DRI Adjunct Professor Dr. Jeffery Hubbell, is being redesigned to permit for the local protection of islet implants.

Furthermore, nanotechnology can also be adapted to assist in masking cells, such as in the case of nano-scale encapsulation, a method developed in Dr. Cherie Stabler’s lab, the Director of the Tissue Engineering Program at the DRI. By fabricating nano-scale layers on the surface of the islet, cells may be masked or camouflaged from the immune system, without imparting a significant barrier between the islet and its surrounding environment. By completely encapsulating the islet, but not incurring thick barriers around the islet, the islet should remain protected, but retain its capacity to fully sense glucose levels and secrete insulin appropriately.

Overall, the field of nanotechnology has tremendous promise in developing a cure for diabetes. While it is true that researchers are still learning how to wield this powerful technology, the potential of this field is very high.



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