Several obstacles have hindered the successful transplantation of islets of Langerhans to human patients in efforts to cure type I diabetes mellitus. One problem is the necessity for short- and long-term storage of islets after isolation and before transplantation. Current long-term storage methods, such as incubation in a physiological medium and cryopreservation, are suboptimal, resulting in significant loss of viable islet mass or function. Better storage methods are needed. In this study we examined the long-term storage of rat islets in macrobeads composed of agarose and collagen. Islets isolated from Wistar-Furth rats were placed into macrobeads (1000 islets/macrobead) and maintained in culture for periods of up to 189 days at 37 degrees C. Insulin released from the cultured macrobeads remained constant for periods of at least 154 days. In one group, insulin release was 1050 mU/24 hr/4 beads on day 3 and 1040 mU/24 hr/4 beads on day 154. In another group, insuling release was 1305 Xenotransplantation of Wistar Furth islet macrobeads, stored for 10 to 112 days at 37 degrees C, degrees C into 42 B6AF/1 mice with streptozotocin-induced diabetes resulted in a return to euglycemia in the recipients within 24 hr. Thereafter, euglycemia was maintained for more than 100 days in 32/42 of the recipients, and removal of the macrobeads caused a return to hyperglycemia within 48 hr in all animals. In addition, a group of 7 mice receiving macrobeads containing 1000 islets stored for 84 days had normal glucose tolerance tests (compared with those of 7 nontreated, nontransplanted mice with streptozotocin-induced diabetes and 7 normal mice), demonstrating that the islets in the macrobeads were functioning as they would in an intact pancreas. Finally, 5 macrobeads transplanted after initial storage of 112 days, removed from the first recipient after 100 days or more, stored again for 4 days in vitro, and retransplanted into 5 other diabetic mice also restored and maintained euglycemia for at least 45 days. Our results indicate that collagen-agarose macrobeads are capable of preserving rat pancreatic islets for extended periods without loss of in vitro insulin release capability or ability to achieve and maintain euglycemia in vivo. As such they should be useful for human islet transplantation efforts.