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Can an eye implant treat both type 1 and 2 diabetes?

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Eye implants could deliver cell-based therapies for diabetes. Azamat Mukanov/Stocksy
  • Although type 2 diabetes can potentially be reversed, there is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes.
  • Research into both focuses on the pancreatic islets, a type of cell that produces insulin, and there have been various attempts over the years to create them in the lab for implantation into the body.
  • Researchers have now developed a microscopic device containing islets cells that can be implanted into the eye in mice without the use of stitches.

About 537 million adults around the world have diabetes — a chronic condition where the body does not make enough insulin or properly use the insulin it makes. 

While type 2 diabetes can be controlled — and possibly reversed Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source — through lifestyle changes, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease for which there is currently no cure. 

In a new study, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have developed a tiny device that can be implanted into the eye to treat both types of diabetes and potentially other diseases. 

The findings were published in the journal Advanced Materials Trusted Source Wiley Peer reviewed journal Go to source .

Developing an eye implant for diabetes

For this study, the researchers developed a microscopic device for implantation into the eye. 

The device is 3D printed, wedge-shaped, and is about 240 micrometers long. It is designed to be placed in the space between the iris and cornea called the anterior chamber. 

The scientists reported that this new device allows specific microorganisms to be delivered directly through the eye without the need for sutures.

“The eye is, as we say, the ‘only window into the body’ where we can noninvasively monitor the transplant,” Dr. Anna Herland, senior lecturer in the Division of Bionanotechnology at SciLifeLab at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and the AIMES research center at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Karolinska Institutet, and co-lead author of this study explained to Medical News Today about what makes the eye a good candidate for this type of treatment.

“The eye is also immune privileged and avoids first immune reactions,” she detailed. 

Delivering cell therapy to the eye

The purpose of the tiny eye implant is to deliver microorganisms for disease treatment. The device was designed to have a micro-cage with a “flap door technique” to release the microorganisms.

In the case of treating diabetes, researchers used pancreatic islets Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source — also known as islets of Langerhans — which are cells from the pancreas that can help restore insulin production.

“Cell transplants hold the promise of curing the disease and thereby avoiding lifelong treatments and the severe consequences of the disease. New technologies are, however, needed to drive the development of cell therapies for diabetes efficiently,” Dr. Herland said.

During the study, researchers tested the eye implant device in a mouse model. They reported the device maintained its position in the eye for several months. When released, the microorganisms quickly integrated into the host animal’s blood vessels and were able to detect glucose.

Dr. Herland said the progress of the therapy released into the eye by the device can be monitored through both normal blood sugar monitoring and observations through the cornea.  

Hope for treating other diseases

The researchers stated this microdevice could be a method to deliver cell-based treatment for other diseases through the eye.

“Ours is a first step toward advanced medical microdevices that can both localize and monitor the function of cell grafts. Our design will enable future integration and use of more advanced device functions such as integrated electronics or drug release.”
— Dr. Anna Herland

“This is a part of a larger effort where we are pushing device technology to monitor the function of transplanted islets,” she continued.

“We have prototypes that can monitor islet function in vitro with electro-optical methods. We are now taking these prototypes for in vivo evaluations. We are also exploring how we can use the devices for drug release locally in the eye, thereby avoiding possible side effects at other sites in the body,” she added.

How is diabetes currently treated? 

For both type 1 and 2 diabetes, the main goal of treatment is to achieve a healthy blood sugar level in the body. 

With type 1 diabetes, this is mainly through injections of insulin as well as additional medications

Treatment for type 2 diabetes may also include medications and/or insulin therapy. 

The main way of managing type 2 diabetes is through lifestyle changes, including eating right, regular exercise Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , getting enough sleep Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , and losing weight

Doctors advise these same Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source lifestyle modifications for type 1 diabetes as well. 

How does diabetes affect the eyes?  

A person’s eyes are connected to the nerves and blood vessels that run throughout the rest of the body. 

For this reason, an optometrist or ophthalmologist can detect signs of several diseases and health issues when performing an eye exam, including: 

Additionally, an eye exam can find signs of diabetes. When the body has too much sugar in the blood, it can damage the blood vessels and nerves throughout the body, including the eyes. 

Types of diabetic eye diseases are: 

New treatments for diabetes?

Medical News Today also spoke with Dr. David Geffen, director of optometric and refractive services at the Gordon Schanzlin New Vision in La Jolla, CA, about this study.

He said this study is a transformative investigation and may change the nature of diabetic treatment.  

“The ability to implant a device in the eye to manage and produce the proper amount of insulin for patients will be a life-changing event. Diabetic patient compliance is a very big problem and the ability to manage this within the body is a huge step in preventing long-term damage typical in these individuals. The eye is the widow of many systemic diseases,” Dr. Geffen added.

“Diabetic retinopathy is a major cause of vision loss Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source in the world. Controlling sugar and insulin levels is paramount to keep the eye and other organs in proper shape. The next steps will be to determine that this implant has no side effects within the eye, as well as how well controlled the patient’s levels will be maintained.”
— Dr. David Geffen

This article originally appeared on Medical News Today.

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