20th Apr 2018

An ‘egg-box’ for living cells spells hope for diabetes and HIV patients

20th Apr 2018

Curated by Ebenezer I. O. Ajayi

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has given HIV-infected people back a near-normal life, but new research suggests that these patients are more likely to develop diabetes. A new tool to preserve vital cells for diabetes treatment can help people with both conditions.

A microscopic 'egg carton' designs makes it possible to save more pancreatic islet cells for transplantation to cure Type1 diabetes patients

In 10 seconds? With this ‘egg-box’, clinicians can now save valuable ‘islet cells’ from the pancreas of organ donors, which are used to cure Type 1 diabetes patients. This is good news for HIV-positive patients on ART, who are at a high risk of diabetes. (Read the science)

But I thought ART was good? Unfortunately, new research suggests that HIV patients on ART are at a high risk of developing diabetes or prediabetes (the warning stage before full diabetes) – and that age, family history of diabetes, obesity and Hispanic or African origins can boost the risk. The evidence connecting prediabetes/diabetes and ART is clear-cut, but scientists don’t yet have an explanation. (Find out more)

Is this an urgent problem? In 2013, the WHO published a strong recommendation for starting ART on adults upon HIV diagnosis, regardless of CD4 immune cell count, a key indicator of disease severity in HIV patients, or age. This means that a lot more HIV patients are being treated with ART, and therefore, we now know, a lot more HIV patients are at a high risk of diabetes. (Learn more)

And how do ‘islet cells’ come into play? These cells can cure people with Type 1 diabetes by restoring the ability of their pancreas to correctly regulate blood sugar levels. Transplanting islet cells from healthy donors can relieve patients from frequent insulin injections and complications with their eyes, kidneys, nervous system and cardiovascular function. But there is a catch! (More about transplants)

What’s the catch? The problem is that islet cells harvested from donors die extremely easily in transport – up to 35% become unusable before transplant. The small number of organ donors makes it top priority to preserve these cells, as currently 2 to 4 donors are needed to harvest enough cells to treat a single patient. (Find out more)

Is there a solution? To save the day, researchers have successfully invented a minuscule ‘egg-box’ that protects these cell clusters and supplies them with the nutrients and oxygen they need. The clever shape of the container prevents physical damage to the spherical islets. (More about the box)

So, will this help all HIV-infected patients? Only those with Type 1 diabetes. Based on the findings about the link between ART and diabetes, researchers also emphasise the importance of awareness. Diabetes patients need to check their HIV status more frequently, whilst HIV-infected people on ART need to make lifestyle changes and prepare for the possibility of developing diabetes. (Learn more)

Elsewhere in science... a cellular switch to stop obesity

Scientists have discovered for the first time a molecular-level signal receptor that can shut down the sense of hunger.

If developed into a drug, the ‘switch’ would be a key step to defeat obesity.

To identify the receptor playing a key role here, researchers at Vanderbilt University had to pinpoint the coordinates of thousands of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and other atoms and work out how they bind together.

Scientists can now say they have the key to fit lock that closes off hunger.

The next step is to verify in humans the findings of previous studies conducted on mice, before moving on to a drug that could control when we feel peckish.

(Psst, Ebenezer distilled 15 research papers to save you 821.3 min)

Curated by

Ebenezer I. O. Ajayi

Postdoctoral Fellow at the Laboratorio de Biofísica y Nanotecnología, IMMF-UNC-CONICET, Argentina, specialising in Clinical Biochemistry and Molecular Biotechnology and the screening of bioactive compounds from plant seeds in diabetic complications.

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