The Harvard researchers designed this new device with consideration of the human pancreas, where islets—also known as islands of cells—receive glucose level information from the bloodstream, then adjust their insulin production.
A new device called the Islet-on-a-Chip, designed at Harvard University, helps scientists screen for insulin-producing cells before transplanting them, test insulin compounds, and study the biology of diabetes, according to the results of a recent study.
The Islet-on-a-Chip works by arranging islets into separate lines and delivers a pulse of glucose to each one while detecting how much insulin is produced, according to the authors. Glucose stimulation and insulin detection can happen at once, speeding up the process and making it easier to use.
Currently, when beta cells have to be tested before being transplanted into a patient, the cells are given glucose to elicit an insulin response and samples are collected and measured. This manual process is time consuming for scientists and has not been updated in decades.
The researchers designed this new device with consideration of the human pancreas, where islets—also known as islands of cells—receive glucose level information from the bloodstream, then adjust their insulin production.
"If we want to cure diabetes, we have to restore a person's own ability to make and deliver insulin," Douglas Melton, PhD, Xander University Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology and co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), said in a statement. "Beta cells, which are made in the pancreas, have the job of measuring sugar and secreting insulin, and normally they do this very well. In diabetes patients these cells can't function properly. Now, we can use stem cells to make healthy beta cells for them. But like all transplants, there is a lot involved in making sure that can work safely."
The researchers intend for this device to lead to new cell therapies for diabetes in the future, since the Islet-on-a-Chip integrates different technologies that could help advance other research in diabetes.
"We can modify the core technology to sense function in a range of microphysiological systems," concluded Aaron Glieberman, co-first author on the paper and a doctoral candidate in the Parker lab. "With the ability to detect cell secretions continuously, we want to make it easier to explore how cells use protein signals to communicate. This technology may eventually develop new insights into dynamic metrics of health for both diagnostics and treatment."