Islet transplantation is a promising therapy for insulin-dependent diabetes, but large-scale application is hampered by the lack of a consistent source of insulin-producing cells and need for lifelong administration of immunosuppressive drugs, which are associated with severe side effects. To avoid chronic immunosuppression, islet grafts can be enveloped in immunoisolating polymeric membranes. These immunoisolating polymeric membranes protect islet grafts from cell-mediated rejection while allowing diffusion of oxygen, nutrients, and insulin. Although clinical trials have shown the safety and feasibility of encapsulated islets to control glucose homeostasis, the strategy does up till now not support long-term graft survival. This partly can be explained by a significant loss of insulin-producing cells in the immediate period after implantation. The loss can be prevented by combining immunoisolation with immunomodulation, such as combined administration of immunomodulating cytokines or coencapsulation of immunomodulating cell types such as regulatory T cells, mesenchymal stem cells, or Sertoli cells. Also, administration of specific antibodies or apoptotic donor leucocytes is considered to create a tolerant microenvironment around immunoisolated grafts. In this review, we describe the outcomes and limitations of these approaches, as well as the recent progress in immunoisolating devices. Impact statement Immunoisolation by enveloping islets in semipermeable membranes allows for successful transplantation of islet grafts in the absence of chronic immunosuppression, but the duration of graft survival is still not permanent. The reasons for long-term final graft failure is not fully understood, but combining immunoisolation with immunomodulation of tissues or host immune system has been proposed to enhance the longevity of grafts. This article reviews the recent progress and challenges of immunoisolation, as well as the benefits and feasibility of combining encapsulation approaches with immunomodulation to promote longevity of encapsulated grafts.
Keywords: diabetes; encapsulation; immunoisolation; immunomodulation; islet transplantation; pancreatic islets.