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Home News Can nanosensor technology and stem cell transplants revolutionise type 1 diabetes treatment? – Diabetes Voice

Can nanosensor technology and stem cell transplants revolutionise type 1 diabetes treatment? – Diabetes Voice

NOTE: Minutia is a next generation cell therapy start-up co-founded by cell sensing luminary Professor Tuan Vo-Dinh (BME, Pratt), in part based on technology developed in his lab, and renowned stem cell biologist Professor Matthias Hebrok. This article was written by Justine Evans and first appeared on the Diabetes Voices website.

Nanosensor technology combined with stem cell transplants holds enormous potential for treating type 1 diabetes. Despite the challenges, we are coming closer to changing the lives of people with the condition.

When Katy Digovich was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age six, doctors told her parents there was a cure in the works. Scientists around the world were working on making stem cell-derived insulin-producing cells in the lab. These cells could be transplanted into people with diabetes and would reverse their condition. That was over 30 years ago.

Since then, Katy has co-founded a biotech company to develop the next generation of diabetes therapies. Along with a team of scientists skilled in stem cell biology, transplantation, immunology, chemistry, optics and engineering, they are compiling the latest innovations in science and technology, ranging from nanosensors to developments in cell therapy to reverse type 1 diabetes.

“I am humbled to be doing this work with my team to create the type of transplant that I want to receive in my own body. I am not the only person involved that is living with or impacted by type 1 diabetes. You could argue that we are doing this work for selfish reasons and because many of us are potential transplant recipients we are pursuing this next generation safer, less invasive and more effective cell therapy relentlessly,” Katy Digovich, CEO, Minutia, USA.

For years, researchers have been striving to find a cure for type 1 diabetes, aiming to replace the lost beta cells with functional ones. Two main approaches have emerged: transplantation of beta cells from human donors and the generation of beta cells from stem cells. While these methods have shown promise, they come with limitations, such as the need for immunosuppressive medications to prevent rejection of the transplanted cells.

Stem cells and beyond

Since the 1990s, researchers have achieved various levels of success in reversing type 1 diabetes by transplanting insulin-producing cells from deceased donors. One of the challenges to this method is the issue of supply. But there are other sources for insulin-producing cells. One is to make them in a lab from stem cells.

However, more work needs to be done before a transplant benefits all people with type 1 diabetes.

The first is to ensure the survival and functionality of the transplanted cells. Transplanted cells are often placed in the liver, which poses challenges regarding accessibility and cell viability. Innovative techniques using forearm transplantation sites are being developed to improve cell survival and provide a more suitable environment for these cells.

A second major hurdle is the need for immunosuppressive medications to prevent the immune system from attacking the transplanted cells. While these medications can effectively prevent rejection, they have significant side effects and long-term risks.

One approach to overcome the need for immunosuppression involves genetic engineering of the transplanted cells using CRISPR gene-editing technology. By altering the cells’ genetic code, researchers aim to create beta cells that are “invisible” to the immune system, thus evading the immune response and the need for immunosuppressive drugs.

The final challenge is the need for real-time data on what happens to these cells once transplanted. Knowing this could be a real game changer.

Nanosensor technology in diabetes treatment

This is where Katy and her team come in. Having grown up in Silicon Valley, she is no stranger to the Internet of Things (IoT). Working with two experts, Dr Matthias Hebrock, renowned in the field of making insulin-producing cells, and Dr Tuan Vo-Dinh, a luminary in the field of biosensors, she is taking the concept of IoT real-time data sensors to monitor what is happening in cells inside the body. This real-time data could be instrumental in optimising the safety and success of stem cell-derived transplants and improving long-term outcomes for people with type 1 diabetes.

Nanosensors, tiny particles capable of detecting and transmitting signals, can be integrated into the transplanted cells to provide real-time feedback on their performance. Researchers can learn more about the behaviour of the transplanted cells, allowing for prompt intervention if any issues arise. These sensors can detect changes in cell phenotype, immune system activity and other crucial parameters. Healthcare providers can make informed decisions and adjust treatment strategies by harnessing this data.

What lies ahead for diabetes treatment?

The combination of nanosensor technology and cell transplants holds immense promise for revolutionising the treatment of type 1 diabetes. While challenges remain, the progress made in this field is remarkable. The journey continues, and with each step forward, we move closer to transforming the lives of millions affected by diabetes.

Regarding the reality of this technology, Katy knows it is not around the corner. Still, she stresses that the progress and the speed of that progress are picking up. Her goal is not to be the first to develop a transplant relevant to all people with type 1 diabetes. She just wants it done.

Learn more about the work of Katy and her team on next-generation cell therapy at

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