Objective: Our goal was to assess the efficacy of encapsulated allogeneic islets transplanted in diabetic NOD mice and streptozotocin (STZ)-diabetic nonhuman primates (NHPs).
Materials and methods: Murine or NHP islets were microencapsulated and transplanted in non-immunosuppressed mice or NHPs given clinically-acceptable immunosuppressive regimens, respectively. Two NHPs were treated with autologous mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and peri-transplant oxygen therapy. Different transplant sites (intraperitoneal [i.p.], omental pouch, omental surface, and bursa omentalis) were tested in separate NHPs. Graft function was monitored by exogenous insulin requirements, fasting blood glucose levels, glucose tolerance tests, percent hemoglobin A1c (% HbA1c), and C-peptide levels. In vitro assessment of grafts included histology, immunohistochemistry, and viability staining; host immune responses were characterized by flow cytometry and cytokine/chemokine multiplex ELISAS.
Results: Microencapsulated islet allografts functioned long-term i.p. in diabetic NOD mice without immunosuppression, but for a relatively short time in immunosuppressed NHPs. In the NHPs, encapsulated allo-islets initially reduced hyperglycemia, decreased exogenous insulin requirements, elevated C-peptide levels, and lowered % HbA1c in plasma, but graft function diminished with time, regardless of transplant site. At necropsy, microcapsules were intact and non-fibrotic, but many islets exhibited volume loss, central necrosis and endogenous markers of hypoxia. Animals receiving supplemental oxygen and autologous MSCs showed improved graft function for a longer post-transplant period. In diabetic NHPs and mice, cell-free microcapsules did not elicit a fibrotic response.
Conclusions: The evidence suggested that hypoxia was a major factor for damage to encapsulated islets in vivo. To achieve long-term function, new approaches must be developed to increase the oxygen supply to microencapsulated islets and/or identify donor insulin-secreting cells which can tolerate hypoxia.