Israeli scientists working on an implantable ‘micro-pancreas’ with the ability to produce insulin in response to blood glucose levels are looking to start human clinical trials early next year.
Jerusalem-based Betalin Therapeutics, which has been working on the innovation for close to ten years, says the “bio-artificial” pancreas could be used by people with type 1 diabetes or people with type 2 diabetes who require insulin pending the outcome of the trial. Globally, around 160 million people are insulin-dependent.
The engineered pancreas works by combining insulin-producing beta cells within a biological scaffolding (a combination of materials used to reconstruct or repair missing or injured tissues), which is adapted from animal lung tissue. The beta cells release insulin according to a person’s blood glucose level, hence mimicking the function of a healthy pancreas.
The bio-artificial pancreas would be implanted under the skin on the thigh under local anaesthesia, acting as a replacement pancreas for insulin functions.
Betalin estimates that each implant would cost around US$40,000 and would need replacing approximately every two years. In an interview with the UK Guardian, Betalin chief executive Nikolai Kunicher said: “Our unique technology allows the body to heal itself. For now, the focus is on diabetes, but there are many more diseases that we intend to cure with the aid of this technology.”
The company said it would be submitting a plan to Britain’s regulatory agency for clinical trials next month, with the aim of beginning the research early next year and having the product available to the market by 2024.
The outcome of human trials, and what this could mean for the many people worldwide living with diabetes, is eagerly awaited.