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Another plastic part from the body shop?

If a clever little device that has shown promise in laboratory animals makes it through human testing, millions of diabetics may eventually be able to do away with their insulin syringes. Described as the shape of, and a little smaller than, a hockey puck, the plastic device contains living, insulin-producing pancreatic cells. When implanted in laboratory dogs at the Harvard Medical School, it was able to produce enough insulin to keep most of the diabetic dogs healthy.

The secret of the artificial pancreas is a plastic membrane. Live pancreatic cells are implanted on one side of the membrane while the patient's blood passes through on the other side. The membrane is impervious to the blood cells of the body's immune system that attack implanted foreign tissue. However, it permits nutritive materials from the blood to flow through and nourish the pancreatic cells. At the same time, it allows the insulin to pass through into the blood. This selective permeability of the membrane material makes it possible to use pancreatic cells of the pig, for example (an deal source of insulin). The artificial pancreas has been designed with rubber ports that, when implanted just under the skin, would allow the insulin cells to be replaced when they become exhausted.

Dr. William Chick of BioHybrid Technologies in Shrewsbury, Mass., co-developed the device, which was discussed in the May 3 issue of Science. Dr. Richard Kahn, chief scientist of the American Diabetes Association, calls the device "a giant step toward what is essentially a permanent pancreatic transplant without the need for immune suppression drugs." He describes the experiments as "exciting research that holds great promise," but cautions that a lot of work still needs to be done before the plastic artificial pancreas apparatus can be applied to humans.

The Harvard researchers hope the device will be ready for human testing in about two years.
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Title Annotation:development of artificial pancreas
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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