Could an implant help diabetic patients to reduce their blood sugar level? Scientists showed that using a tiny device to implant insulin-secreting beta cells can cure diabetes in mice. Read further to find how this nanofiber device allows insulin to be released in mice while protecting against immune cells.

Can implantation of Insulin-Secreting Cells in Mice Cure Diabetes?

Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Cornell University subdued mice by installing a small device that is capable of releasing insulin-secreting cells. These imported cells can release insulin to respond to the blood sugar changes, this shows diabetes can be reversed without the help of any immune system-suppressing medicines.

The Associate professor of medicine Jeffrey R. Millman demonstrates that they use skin or fat cells from a person to transform them into stem cells and grow those stem cells into insulin-secreting cells. The concern is that for people who have Type 1 diabetes, the immune system harms those insulin-secreting cells and can kill them. To send those cells as a therapy, they require tools to house cells and they secrete insulin in response to blood sugar. These devices can also protect those cells from the immune system.

In the previous study, Dr. Millman discovered a way of making induced pluripotent stem cells. From there, researchers can grow them into insulin-secreting beta cells. These cells potentially reversed diabetes in a group of mice before, however, scientists were not sure how to safely recreate the same process in humans who have diabetes. 

This device is almost the width of one or two strands of hair and is also called micro-porous. It has openings that won’t allow other cells to squeeze into, hence all insulin-secreting cells can’t be destroyed by immune cells which are bigger than openings.

Milman further describes that it was challenging to protect the cells inside of the implant because they need nutrients and oxygen from the blood to live. Along with this tiny device they created something which is called a Goldilocks zone, where they could stay fine inside the device and stay functional and healthy, and can also deliver insulin in response to blood sugar levels.

Millman and his team collaborated with Minglin Ma, PhD, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell. Dr Ma and his colleagues have been working on different methods to safely implant beta cells into animals and hoping that someday the same method can be used in humans. Many implant devices have been tested in recent years. This time, scientists created a unique device, called “nanofiber-integrated cell encapsulation (NICE).”

Researchers packed devices with insulin-secreting beta cells which were created via stem cells. The study team implanted those devices into the abdomens of mice who have diabetes.

This device floated freely inside mice and when it was removed after 6 months, the insulin-secreting cells inside the device were still functioning. It is considered a very safe device.

The cells in the implants still produced secreted insulin and also helped control blood sugar level in the mice for around 200 days. The cells are still functioning even though mice didn’t provide anything to suppress their immune system.


Milman concluded that people rather not suppress the immune system with drugs because that makes diabetic patients vulnerable to infections. The device they used in their experiments protected the implanted cells from the immune system of mice. They believed similar devices may work the same way in patients who have insulin-dependent diabetes.