The Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami never fails to sharpen the cutting-edge of D-research. Its latest invention is the so-called "oxygen sandwich" -- a sort of gasket gadget designed to keep impermeable plastic from killing off insulin-producing beta cells incubating in the laboratory, bound for transplantation.
"One of the major challenges to islet cell transplantation as the treatment of choice for type 1 diabetes is the shortage of donor tissue supply. Patients often need a re-infusion of islet cells after the initial treatment, and this means another donor pancreas is needed to provide the fragile islet cells for transplant...
"Up until now investigators have had only moderate success in differentiating either adult stem cells or embryonic stem cells to become insulin-producing beta cells. A large part of the problem has been inducing the proper culture environment in the laboratory. Researchers know that islets require a high amount of oxygen for optimal health, so UM researchers created a new cell culture device called the 'oxygen sandwich' to provide the cells with a more natural oxygen environment than those used in traditional culture methods."
What the new device actually does is effectively "sandwich" the stem cells with oxygen from two sources, one from the top with air diffusing through the culture medium and the second from the bottom with air diffusing through a silicon membrane mixed with perfluorocarbon, a very powerful oxygen reservoir.
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"It is as though these stem cells were just waiting for us to provide them with the conditions they needed to mature. We believe this is a major step toward the efficient generation of beta cells for clinical transplantation," says head researcher Juan DomÃnguez-Bendala, Ph.D.
The exciting thing is that this new method opens doors for other applications with different cells, beyond embryonic stem cells and beyond diabetes, according Camillo Ricordi, M.D., scientific director of the DRI.
Once again, a new method tested only on mice to date (mouse pancreatic stem cells, to be exact). But quite ingenious and promising indeed!
Golly, what will they think of next? A diabetes cure from lettuce?! Wait, no... somebody's already doing that. I'm still looking into that one...