Michael Sefton, scientific director of Medicine by Design and University Professor at U of T, is developing a method to transfer insulin-producing cells to a patient under the skin. This research has shown promising results.
Sefton’s team has identified that the skin is a less hostile immune environment for implanted cells than the liver, which has been used as a location for cell therapy transplants for type 1 diabetes.
To protect the cells even more, the Sefton lab encapsulates the cells before transplanting them so they have a protective membrane that can keep immune cells and antibodies from attaching to the cells and destroying them.
But the skin has few blood vessels to help deliver the insulin all over the body, so the Sefton lab, which is at the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, uses a material containing methacrylic acid (MAA) to create blood vessels under the skin.
“We believe that the MAA has properties that will work on the skin’s cells to be tolerant of the pancreatic cells. We don’t want to suppress the immune system, because that is dangerous for the patient. We want to fool it into accepting the new pancreatic cells as if they are part of the patient’s body. And if we can do that, we’ll have taken a huge step forward.”