How A Seaweed Extract Could Help Treat Type 1 Diabetes

How A Seaweed Extract Could Help Treat Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes used to be a death sentence. After a diagnosis, patients were put on a starvation diet. The lucky ones would have a year or two to live. But, thanks to the discovery of insulin in the early 1920s, this is no longer the case.

We need insulin to regulate our blood sugar. After a meal, insulin helps our cells to use the sugar in our food. We use this sugar as fuel for energy – without insulin, sugar has nowhere to go. It stays in the bloodstream, and over time, damages blood vessels.

People with type 1 diabetes inject themselves with insulin to control their blood sugar level. However, while the treatment is a lifesaver, it can’t prevent people from developing diabetic complications. These conditions can be life limiting, so what if there was a treatment that was better than insulin injections?

Well, there might be, and it involves transplanting cells.

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

Over 450 million people have diabetes, but less than 10% of these people have the kind known as type 1. In type 1 diabetes, the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas stop working. Scientists don’t know exactly how this happens, but the immune system seems to attack these cells by accident.

I work with researchers and surgeons at the universities of Strathclyde and Edinburgh who are replacing these faulty cells for a small group of people with severe type 1 diabetes. In a healthy person, around 1% of the pancreas cells produce insulin. Scientists are able to extract these insulin-producing cells from a donor pancreas and surgeons transplant them into a diabetic patient.

Major obstacles

A successful transplant would mean people with type 1 diabetes can start making their own insulin again. It sounds simple, but it doesn’t always work. Major obstacles are stopping this treatment from being more widely available.

As with transplanted organs, cells also face rejection. Cell transplant recipients have to take a cocktail of antirejection drugs. While these drugs make the immune system less likely to detect the transplanted cells, they also have serious side-effects.

Even successful cell transplants eventually fail. When the donor insulin-producing cells stop working, the patient’s diabetes comes back. Researchers still don’t know exactly why the transplant stops working. We think that despite the antirejection drugs, the patient’s immune system eventually detects that the cells are from a different body and attacks them.

It might even happen because of the drug treatment. Antirejection drugs can have a toxic effect on insulin-producing cells. Because of these risks, cell transplants are only available to a small group of patients who can’t control their blood sugar, even with insulin injections, and get hospitalised regularly.

Researchers are trying to get rid of the need for antirejection drugs. The cells can’t be rejected if they can’t be detected by the immune system. We think it could be possible to sneak the donor cells into patients’ bodies if they’re coated in a special material.

Invisible cells

Bioinvisible materials can be implanted in the body without being rejected by the immune system. We use a bioinvisible substance called alginate, which is extracted from seaweed. In theory, cells encased in a bioinvisible material would evade detection by the immune cells that travel around our bodies, looking for invaders.

Alginate is found in the cell walls of brown seaweeds. (how a seaweed extract could help treat type 1 diabetes)
Alginate is found in the cell walls of brown seaweeds.
Robert Ford/Shutterstock

Cloaking the cells in bioinvisible alginate could stop the transplants from failing. In our lab, we have a machine that lets us trap clusters of insulin-producing cells in tiny alginate bubbles. The bubbles are around 200 micrometres wide – about the width of a human hair – and can hide over a thousand cells inside.

As well as being bioinvisible, alginate is porous. The pores are big enough to let insulin out and let oxygen and sugar in (the nutrients cells need to survive). But, more importantly, the pores are too small for immune cells to pass into the alginate bubbles and detect or damage the donor cells inside.

Transplanting cells cloaked in bioinvisible alginate has had promising results in animal trials and in small-scale human trials. However, making the bubbles is difficult to scale up. Hopefully, in the future, it could lead to cell transplants without antirejection drugs. Many more people with diabetes, especially young people, could then get a cell transplant. This would stop them from developing the health complications that come from having years of high blood sugar. Maybe one day young people could get a bioinvisible cell transplant to treat their diabetes as soon as they’re diagnosed.The Conversation

About the Author

Katrina Wesencraft, PhD Candidate, University of Strathclyde

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



English Afrikaans Arabic Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional) Danish Dutch Filipino Finnish French German Greek Hebrew Hindi Hungarian Indonesian Italian Japanese Korean Malay Norwegian Persian Polish Portuguese Romanian Russian Spanish Swahili Swedish Thai Turkish Ukrainian Urdu Vietnamese

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

Wednesday, 19 May 2021 09:40

To “cry poor mouth” is an expression used to habitually complain about a lack of money. A literal poor mouth, however, represents one of the most widespread global diseases: tooth decay.

Friday, 14 May 2021 08:30

Fertility has declined in most industrialised countries. While the causes are largely unknown, a number of factors may contribute to declining fertility rates, including the age...

Tuesday, 25 July 2023 17:28

Certain foods or dietary patterns are linked with better control of your asthma. Others may make it worse. Depending on what you’ve eaten, you can see the effects in hours.

Tuesday, 18 May 2021 16:15

In my blog posts, free resources, and courses, I talk a lot about the things that we can do to support and develop our inborn, natural interspecies communication abilities. In this post, I...

Wednesday, 21 April 2021 07:23

Whether it’s your arthritic relative who knows rain is on the way when their knees ache or your lifelong pal who gets a headache when a storm is approaching, we all know somebody who claims they...

Wednesday, 28 April 2021 08:51

Insects are attracted to landscapes where flowering plants of the same species are grouped together and create big blocks of color, according to new research.

New Attitudes - New Possibilities | | | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.