A team of researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the ETH Zurich, have produced artificial beta cells for the treatment of diabetes.

Artificial Beta Cell Production

The artificial beta cells produced by ETH Zurich researchers are capable of performing all the functions of typical pancreatic cells. It is noted that the cells have the ability to measure the concentration of glucose in the bloodstream and produce insulin whenever required to balance the blood glucose levels.

To design artificial beta cells, the investigators led by Professor Martin Fussenegger made use of cell lines based on human kidney or HEK cells. The team made use of the potassium channels as well as the transport proteins in the HEK cells and supplemented these with a voltage-dependent calcium channel and a gene responsible for the production of GLP-1 and insulin. GLP-1 is a hormone that plays a role in regulating blood sugar levels.

Functioning Of Artificial Beta Cells

The natural proteins in the membranes of HEK cells transport glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. When the amount of glucose in the blood increases above an optimal level, the potassium channels in the cells close.

As soon as the potassium channels close, calcium channels open and release calcium into the cell. The released calcium produces a series of signals that stimulate the secretion of GLP-1 or insulin. It is noted in the study that the artificial beta cells worked efficiently when tested on mice.

Beta Cells Experiment On Mice

When the artificial beta cells were introduced into the diabetic mice it was found that the cells were able to generate signals effectively and maintain blood sugar levels for a period three weeks. The artificial beta cells work way better and longer than any other diabetic treatment developed in the world by far, said Fussenegger, a professor of biotechnology and bioengineering at UTH Zurich's Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in Basel.

As far as the making of artificial beta cells is concerned, Fussenegger's team relied on the work of the research team of Professor Jörg Stelling, also from the biosystems science and engineering department. Stelling's team created a computer model of beta cells that was useful in predicting cell behavior, which was then verified experimentally.

"The data from the experiments and the values calculated using the models were almost identical," said Fussenegger in a press release.

According to the investigators, if the new treatment with beta cells is found effective in clinical trials it could be released for public use in the next 10 years or so.

The researchers also came up with beta cells for diabetes treatment several months ago. The process involved growing beta cells from stem cells obtained from human fatty tissues, but the technique could not be brought into use in reality because of the cost involved in producing the cells individually for every patient.

The study is published in the journal Science.

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