Background: Islet transplantation is limited by the need for chronic immunosuppression and the paucity of donor tissue. As new sources of human beta-cells are developed (e.g., stem cell-derived tissue), transplanting them in a durable device could obviate the need for immunosuppression, while also protecting the patient from any risk of tumorigenicity. Here, we studied (1) the survival and function of encapsulated human beta-cells and their progenitors and (2) the engraftment of encapsulated murine beta-cells in allo- and autoimmune settings.
Methods: Human islets and human fetal pancreatic islet-like cell clusters were encapsulated in polytetrafluorethylene devices (TheraCyte) and transplanted into immunodeficient mice. Graft survival and function was measured by immunohistochemistry, circulating human C-peptide levels, and blood glucose levels. Bioluminescent imaging was used to monitor encapsulated neonatal murine islets.
Results: Encapsulated human islet-like cell clusters survived, replicated, and acquired a level of glucose responsive insulin secretion sufficient to ameliorate hyperglycemia in diabetic mice. Bioluminescent imaging of encapsulated murine neonatal islets revealed a dynamic process of cell death followed by regrowth, resulting in robust long-term allograft survival. Further, in the non-obese diabetic (NOD) mouse model of type I diabetes, encapsulated primary beta-cells ameliorated diabetes without stimulating a detectable T-cell response.
Conclusions: We demonstrate for the first time that human beta-cells function is compatible with encapsulation in a durable, immunoprotective device. Moreover, our study suggests that encapsulation of beta-cells before terminal differentiation will be a successful approach for new cell-based therapies for diabetes, such as those derived from stem cells.