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Brehm and Greiner laboratories testing islet encapsulation device in collaboration with Lockheed Martin & JDRF Research

Date Posted: Thursday, September 05, 2019

The research laboratories of Dale Greiner, PhD and Michael Brehm, PhD at the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence (DCOE) are collaborating with JDRF Research and Lockheed Martin on novel technology that Lockheed Martin has developed for islet encapsulation.

Encapsulation is defined as the transplantation of insulin-producing beta cells that are protected by and contained within a capsule.  The ideal encapsulation device will protect the cells from the type 1 diabetes autoimmune attack, while also allowing those protected cells to survive and function.

Challenges of encapsulation

Three major obstacles to encapsulation have presented problems to researchers over the years.

Cell Supply: The only proven source of donated islet cells to date have come from cadavers, of which the supply is extremely limited.       

Cell Health and Survival: Islets require oxygen to survive.  A successful encapsulation device must support artery and tissue growth, allowing oxygen to be carried into the device and to the cells.  That would enable the beta cells to release insulin into the blood. 

Protection from the Body’s Immune Response: Scarring around the device, known as fibrosis, is caused when the body's immune system recognizes the encapsulation device in the body and attacks it.  Fibrosis has been the most common reason that past encapsulation devices have failed.

Dale Greiner, PhD
Michael Brehm, PhD

Encapsulation device optimization

The Greiner and Brehm labs at the UMass DCOE are currently testing Lockheed Martin’s encapsulation device.  Their engineers are optimizing the application of graphene, a one atom thick material, in the design of novel encapsulation devices for islets.  Graphene sheets are being used to generate encapsulation devices that protect islets from immune rejection while also allowing a highly permeable barrier that enables instantaneous diffusion of glucose, insulin, oxygen and nutrients to and from the islets.

“The technological advances being made at Lockheed are an exciting step forward for islet transplantation and the treatment of diabetes,” said Brehm. “Moreover, as the technology matures, it may have broad application in areas of clinical therapy.”

JDRF’s encapsulation research program is currently funding this collaborative research to overcome the barriers and create a successful implantable cell replacement device to be used as a therapy for people living with type 1 diabetes.

Shantashri Vaidya, PhD, working on the islet encapsulation study in the Brehm Lab