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20th February 2017 Latest News

3D Printing Revolutionising Type 1 Diabetes

Professor Toby Coates

Your dedicated researchers are leading the way in ground-breaking new treatments for type 1 diabetes through the development of a 3D printer with the ability to print insulin-producing islet cells for transplant to treat this debilitating condition.

Led by Professor Toby Coates and his team of experts at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, in collaboration with the Bioengineering team at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science Intelligent Polymer Research Institute at the University of Wollongong, this research is truly life-changing.

Islet transplantation advanced by the KTDRA team has recently revolutionised treatment for type 1 diabetes, and in many cases has cured people of the chronic condition they’ve been living with for decades.

“We currently use islet transplantation to treat patients with severe or unstable diabetes. This is done by transplanting donor islet cells which can restore the diabetes sufferer’s capacity to produce insulin and regulate blood sugar levels,” Prof Coates said.

Whilst successful in many cases, the islet transplantation treatment is only an option for those with severe diabetes due to a number of complexities and barriers, which Prof Coates is confident can be fixed with the 3D printer.

“The current islet transplant procedure relies on donor islet cells being available for the transplant, and it also involves the patient having to take immunosuppression medication to stop their immune system from rejecting the cells. This medication has a number of negative effects including organ toxicity and an increased risk of cancer,” Prof Coates explained.

 “At this stage we transplant these islets into the patient’s liver, and whilst it has been successful, in the process we lose about 75 percent of these islets in the first few hours.”

This could all change thanks to this world-first research! Using the 3D printer, Professor Coates and the team are creating an artificial pancreas that is custom designed to fix the problems currently associated with the islet transplant procedure.

“Our goal is to use the patient’s own cells to grow the islet cells they need to produce insulin, solving the problem of donor rejection and the need for additional medication,” Prof Coates said.

Within this 3D structure of the artificial pancreas we are putting an ink comprised of islet cells along with two or three different cell types that will protect the islets once they’ve been transplanted.

“It’s like we’re creating a defensive castle wall around the outside of these islet cells. This wall will include cells that fight the immune system’s rejection and also cells to promote the function of these islet cells.

“What this means is that we’ll avoid having to transplant the islet cells into the liver, patients will not have to take immunosuppression medication orally and we’ll be able to make more islet cells available.”

With a wide range of researchers currently working on this project, Prof Coates is hopeful the printer will revolutionise type 1 diabetes treatment, making islet transplantation more widely available to all those living with this condition.

The research work will be presented at the Australian Embassy in Korea on the 20th of April in a joint Australian-Korean cooperative advanced manufacturing workshop designed to increase advanced manufacturing in Australia through international cooperative efforts.

“I believe this printer will enable us to treat more people with diabetes and eventually get to the point of having large number of cells available and curing diabetes completely!”