Bioengineering for the production of cells with islet function to treat Diabetes

A significant breakthrough in diabetes research occurred in 2000, when an Edmonton research group developed a protocol for transplanting insulin-producing cells from human donors into patients with type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes. More than 100 successful islet transplantations have been performed worldwide, bringing realistic hope for a cure to diabetes. Since two donors on average are required to acquire sufficient islets to treat one patient, a shortage of donor islets remains a significant obstacle for widespread use of transplantation. There is a great demand for alternative sources of these cells, such as cells derived from adult stem cells produced in the laboratory. Ideally, cells would be taken from a patient. From these, the appropriate stem cells would be isolated then cultivated to produce a supply of islet cells for transplantation back into the patient. Before this can be achieved, however, researchers must optimize techniques for increasing the numbers of pancreatic islet cells that can be produced in this fashion. Corinne Hoesli’s research focuses on duct cells, which are believed to be the precursors of insulin-producing islet cells. She is working both to determine the best ways to grow these cells in-vitro and how to translate these protocols to support larger scale production. As process optimization and scale-up are typical engineering issues, she hopes that applying engineering approaches to this field of health research will help overcome the bottleneck of tissue shortage for islet transplantations.