Seaweed Capsule – A Ray of Hope for Diabetics to Lead a Needle-free Life

insulinDiabetes sufferers now can lead a needle-free life, thanks to a breakthrough capsule made from seaweed extract. Japanese scientists have developed the novel seaweed capsule which they claim could help in providing relief to diabetic patients from the constant pain of needle pricks.

The seaweed capsule is created by a team of scientists led by professor Amy Shen from the the Okinawa Institute of Technology and Science Graduate University (OIST) for preserving insulin-producing pancreatic cells, offering hope to diabetics to lead the injection-free life.

Type 1 diabetes patients require daily dose of insulin injections. Pancreatic islet transplantation, which includes the transfer of isolated islets from a donor pancreas to a diabetic patient, is an effective treatment that can significantly reduce daily doses or even eliminate dependence on external insulin.

Only human islets can be transplanted thus far and their supply is low. The method commonly used for the islet preservation and transportation is Cryopreservation, or deep freezing, which is not completely safe and might compromise cell viability due to ice damage.

The OIST scientists, however, have developed a novel cryopreservation method that they claim helps to protect pancreatic islets from ice damage.

The novel breakthrough technique employs a droplet microfluidic device which consists of hydrogel made of alginate, a natural polymer extracted from seaweed. The hydrogel filled device is used to encapsulate pancreatic islets. These capsules have a state-of-the-art microstructure having a porous network and notably large amount of non-freezable bound water which helps in protecting the cells from the ice damage.

“Hydrogel capsules with large amounts of non-freezable bound water protect the cells from the ice damage and reduce the need for cryoprotectants — special substances that minimise or prevent freezing damage and can be toxic in high concentrations,” the researchers noted.

Pancreatic islet encapsulation diminishes the chances of rejection of donated cells by the recipient.

Other benefits of the hydrogel islet transplantation are that it is a simple and reliable method requiring no major surgical intervention. It is a time-efficient, simpler and cheaper method than transplantation of the entire pancreas, and is often done under local anaesthesia, the team pointed out.

The study was published in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials.