Researchers have developed an implantable device that could provide a long-term supply of insulin to the body. The implant was designed to shield insulin-producing, or islet, cells from damaging immune responses, while continuously generating oxygen to sustain them. The results of a study show that transplanted cells within the device were able to survive and produce insulin in animals over the course of one month.

The bioelectronic prototype implant features an electrode that sends electric current through nearby water molecules, splitting them into hydrogen and oxygen. Below the electrode, chambers housing islet cells are encapsulated in oxygen-permeable membranes, allowing the oxygen to reach them.

To maintain a lean, wireless design, the researchers built the device without a battery on board. Instead, an external power source emits radio waves that are picked up by a receiver on the device, generating electrical current. The process, known as inductive coupling, is commonly used to wirelessly charge smartphones and other devices.

They tested their strategy by loading devices with islet cells from rats and implanting them into a diabetic mouse model. Over the course of a month, they measured blood sugar levels in the treated mice, which decreased to normal levels within a day and held there until two days after implants were removed. (Image credit: Claudia Liu and Dr. Siddharth Krishnan, MIT/Boston Children’s Hospital)

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