Health Watch: Tea Bag Insulin

PHOENIX, Ariz. (KFSN) -- The American Diabetes Association estimates nearly 1.25 million Americans have type one diabetes. Scientists at the University of Arizona are developing an implantable device that senses low glucose and delivers insulin.

Rebecca Ruiz Hudman uses a glucose monitor, insulin pump and insulin sensor to control her type one diabetes.

Hudman said, "It might make you sleepy if you're too high or it might make you shaky and jittery and obviously go into a coma if you're too low. So, it's this constant battle."

Even with state-of-the-art technology, her glucose levels go too high and too low. In type one diabetes, the immune system destroys insulin-producing islet cells, so the pancreas can't regulate blood sugar. Klearchos Papas, PhD, Dir, Institute for Cellular Transplantation at the University of Arizona is developing this 'tea bag' device to take over.

"The teabag actually separates the immune system from the cells and protects them without the need of special drugs that immunosuppress your system," said Papas.

That's especially important for kids. Scientists get islet cells from a cadaver pancreas, isolate and evaluate them, then put them in this Teflon-coated teabag.

Papas explained, "It allows glucose to go in so these cells can sense it as they do in the pancreas, and it allows insulin to come out, so it can actually be effective in the tissues that need it."

It worked in small animals and is now being tested in large ones. Papas says the teabag is small because he figured out how to oxygenate it through this tube and needs fewer cells.

Professor Papas hopes to use lab-grown islet cells from stem cells to make the procedure more cost effective and efficient for widespread use. He's also trying to see whether several small teabags or one larger tea bag work best. Papas says grants from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the NIH should push the project into clinical trials in two or three years.
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