There are two types of diabetes mellitus: Type 1 and Type 2. (They really got creative with that, huh?) Type 2 is the Wilford Brimley type — adult onset diabetes related to obesity. Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, first appears in childhood and is due to beta cells in the pancreas (a.k.a. “The Jake Olsen of Organs”), which normally produce insulin, being destroyed by the body’s own immune system. Management of this disease requires close monitoring of blood glucose levels, and injections of insulin as needed when glucose levels are excessively high. Why not put cells in the patient that produce appropriate amounts of insulin? Well, recently the scientific community responded to that question with a resounding, “Well… fine. We’ll do that.”
One of the issues with just injecting new cells, however, is that damn immune system again. The immune system’s job is to categorize things into “Me” and “Not Me,” and destroy the latter. This isn’t just viruses, bacteria, and parasites; it can include innocuous things like dust and pollen, and even helpful things like implanted organs and cells, or in the case of Type 1 diabetics, its own fucking normal cells. I mean, look, we know you’re doing your job, immune system, but can you lighten up just a little?
A University of California graduate student, Crystal Nyitray, and her advisor, Tejal Desai, decided to take on this challenge. Their solution was simple yet ingenious: they put up a screen. They encapsulated stem-cell derived beta cell clusters in a “nanoporous immunoprotective polymer thin layer.” To all those yelling “English, motherfucker, do you speak it?” that means a film with holes so small that insulin and glucose can cross it, but antibodies and immune cells cannot. These cell packets are then implanted in the pancreas, and do the normal beta cell job of responding to blood glucose levels and producing appropriate amounts of insulin. This has already been successfully tested in lab animals, and Nyitray has started a biotech company, Encellin, to move toward
s human testing. This could finally free Type 1 diabetics from those irritating blood-testing pricks needed to make sure they won’t die.
It does nothing to address the other irritating pricks out there, though. Looking at you, Randy.