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EDITORS IN CHARGE

Editor-in-chief SINTEF:
Director of communications Petter Haugan

Editor-in-chief NTNU:
Information Director Christian Fossen

Editor SINTEF:
Åse Dragland
Email: Ase.Dragland@sintef.no
Tel: +47 73 59 24 76
Fax: +47 73 59 83 50

Reporters: Svein Tønseth and Christina B. Winge

Postal address: Gemini, SINTEF, N-7465 Trondheim, Norway

Editors NTNU:
Nina Tveter
Email: nina.tveter@ntnu.no
Tel: +47 73 59 53 21
Fax: +47 73 59 54 37

Reporters: Tore Oksholen, Lisa Olstad and Synnøve Ressem


Translation and English editing: Stewart Clark, Nancy Bazilchuk, Hugh Allen og Gavin Tanguay


 

Capsules offer hope

Insulin cells in tailored alginate capsules do not trigger the body’s immune system.

Capsules  
ALGINATE CAPSULES (TAM): The alginate is marked with a fluorescent green colour. One capsule measures 500 micrometers in diameter. Photo: Yrr Mørch
 

There is renewed hope for the treatment of diabetes type 1 with gel capsules. Biotechnologists in Trondheim have developed a new type of alginate capsule that could solve the problem of the body’s immune system recognizing and attacking alien, implanted insulin cells.

If this becomes a medical reality, diabetes patients with transplanted insulin-producing donor cells in their abdominal cavity do not have to take immunosuppressants for the rest of their life – medication which involves a high risk of infection and cancer.

Researchers also envision using the innovation in the treatment of certain types of cancer.

The Trondheim Capsule
The new capsule, called TAM (the Trondheim Alginate Microcapsule), is designed to camouflage the insulin-producing cells from the body’s immune system.

“If the capsule is to function well, it needs to be suitably porous so that it allows nutrients to enter the insulin cells while insulin is transported out. It must be suitably small, and it must be stabile so it doesn’t swell and gradually break. We seem to be in the process of solving all these challenges,” says Research Fellow Yrr Mørch from the Trondheim Bioencapsulation Group at NTNU.

Her research environment, headed by Professor Gudmund Skjåk-Bræk, participates in an international cooperation called “The Chicago Project”. The aim is to find a functional cure for diabetes type 1.

A solution around the corner
Alginate capsules with insulin cells are currently not used in the treatment of diabetes patients, even though the idea is far from new. In the 1990s, an American had an alginate capsule implanted. This was produced in Trondheim with insulin cells.

It appeared to be a success, but how well the old capsule actually functioned remained unanswered as the American had also had a kidney transplant and already took immunosuppressants.

Capsules  
HUMAN ISLETS OF LANGERHANS: Clusters of insulin-producing cells marked with special chemicals that make living cells green and dead cells red. The cell clusters measure 50 to 200 micrometers. Photo: Berit L. Strand
 

Animal experiments later revealed that the capsule did not function satisfactorily. The main reason being polylysine, a substance used on the capsule’s outside to improve stability and make it less porous. This substance is toxic and triggers the immune system, which results in immune cells attaching to the surface of the capsule and hampering the diffusion of substances in and out of the capsule. The result is cell death.

Thorough basic research and several doctoral degrees later, the solution to the immune problem related to the transplant of capsules with insulin producing cells appears to be close. However, many years are likely to pass before the method can be used in patients. Stay updated on developments at: http://www.ntnu.no/nt/english/research/bioencapsulation/about

Tailored alginate
Alginate is a long sugar molecule that stiffens kelp in the same way as cellulose makes the trees stand upright. Kelp has been the subject of research at NTNU/former NTH for 50 years. Several of the secrets of alginate are therefore revealed, including its structure.

Researchers have managed to isolate, clone and produce an enzyme in large scale.

The enzyme is involved in the construction of the alginate in different ways. That means that the researchers themselves can build the nanostructure of alginate so the molecule gets the desired properties. Researchers envision tailoring different alginate capsules for various uses in the near future.

By Nina Tveter

CONTACT: Yrr Mørch, Department of Biotechnology, NTNU
PHONE: +47 402 34 744  
EMAIL: yrr.morch@biotech.ntnu.no

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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