Researchers at Louisville’s Cardiovascular Innovation Institute (CII) have received a grant from the National Institutes of Health for more than $1.25 million to study a new way to fight diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The research team, led by Stuart Williams (pictured), CII’s scientific director and a professor at the University of Louisville, is trying to find a viable way to transplant insulin-producing pancreatic cells into patients with diabetes.
The cells would help people with diabetes manage blood sugar, an important factor for their overall health maintenance. These people are especially susceptible to heart problems. Two out of three people with diabetes die of cardiovascular disease.
“We are using new biomaterials and tissue engineering approaches to make it possible for doctors to transplant pancreatic islet cells — the cells that produce insulin,” Williams said.
The CII team is wrapping the pancreatic cells in a biomaterial that protects them from attack by the transplant recipient’s immune system. Such attack is one of the main potential problems associated with transplants and leads to the body’s “rejection” of the new tissue. The biomaterial is engineered specifically to allow glucose and insulin to pass through it so the cells continue to work.
The team also is trying to figure out a way to make sure the cells have enough blood supply to live. It has developed a way to use engineered tissue to “pre-build” a functioning blood supply. This will allow the cells to go to work quickly once they are transplanted.
“You could compare it to the way that a landscape architect designs an irrigation system before transplanting all of the new plants to an area,” Williams said. “Once you get the plants in, you’re ready to turn on the water.”
Illustration: University of Louisville Cardiovascular Innovation Institute.
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University of Louisville’s Cardiovascular Innovation Institute News (06/03/08)
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