Project Search

sector_ico_Health_trans Human Health

3D printed pancreatic tissue from genetically engineered stem cells for diabetes

  • Project Leaders: Timothy Kieffer, Samuel Wadsworth
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $400000
  • Program/Competition: GeneSolve
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2019
  • Status: Closed

Over 300,000 people in Canada and millions more worldwide are living with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), a disease characterized by elevated blood sugar levels. T1D patients lack the pancreatic cells that release the hormone insulin, which would otherwise carefully control blood sugar. The conventional way to manage blood sugar is the daily delivery of insulin through needle injections or pumps; these approaches imprecisely match the tight control of blood sugar achieved by pancreatic cells, such that patients often suffer debilitating consequences including damage to their eyes, nerves, kidneys, and heart. Out-of-pocket expenses for T1D account for 3% of the average patient income, and more (13%) for patients using insulin pumps. Transitioning to a long-term implanted treatment would improve patient quality of life and reduce health care costs.

The best potential for treating and curing T1D lies in implanting working pancreatic tissue with insulin-producing cells into the patient, but currently, the only source of these is deceased donor tissue. This type of transplant requires the recipient to be on a long term regimen of anti-rejection drugs, which comes with a number of undesirable side effects. If pancreatic cells could be grown and implanted inside a device that protects the cells from recognition by the immune system, this would make transplants of this nature a viable long term solution.

UBC’s Dr. Timothy Kieffer and Vancouver biotechnology company Aspect Biosystems collaboratively developed an implantable device as a promising long term treatment for Type 1 Diabetes. The first iteration of this implant was successfully developed using primary islet cells (human organ donor and animal cells) and demonstrated that bioprinted tissues containing these cells are an effective cure for T1D In diabetic rats. Future versions of this technology will use the safety switch-enabled stem cell-derived pancreatic cells, developed during this project, to eliminate the need for pancreatic organ donors. In addition, the experience and knowledge acquired in this collaboration critically supported Aspect Biosystems in accelerating their company closer to the clinical phase.