The technology takes inspiration from the way water beads on a spider’s web.

A research team has developed a device that could revolutionize management of Type 1 diabetes. In Type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing pancreatic cell clusters (islets) are destroyed by the body’s immune system.

The research group has devised an ingenious method for implanting hundreds of thousands of islet cells into a patient. They are protected by a thin hydrogel coating and, more importantly, the coated cells are attached to a polymer thread and can be removed or replaced easily when they have outlived their usefulness.

Transplantation of stem cell-derived, insulin-producing islet cells is an alternative to insulin therapy, but that requires long-term immunosuppressive drug administration. One well-researched approach to avoid the immune system’s response is to coat and protect the cells in tiny hydrogel capsules, hundreds of microns in diameter. However, these capsules cannot be taken out of the body easily, since they’re not connected to each other, and there are hundreds of thousands of them.

Taking inspiration from the way water beads on a spider’s web, the team first attempted to connect the islet cell-containing capsules through a string but realized that it would be better to put the hydrogel layer uniformly around a string instead. That string: an ionized calcium-releasing, nanoporous polymer thread.