Engineering organs for benchtop evaluation is a significant area of focus in the biomedical engineering community. The capacity to intimately characterize the influence of various parameters on organ function and viability, as well as its impact on “downstream” organs, would not only advance scientific knowledge, but minimize animal research and improve the safety and efficacy of potential new drugs. In the field of diabetes, a benchtop platform that supports islet function and viability long-term is a significant need, as current culturing techniques are unable to sustain islets longer than a few days. If such a platform was developed, this would not only provide a screening platform for agents that might impact islet function, but also offer a means to sustain islets prior to transplant and identify culture factors that may contribute to superior islet health. Further, understanding the culture characteristics that support pancreatic islets will guide diabetes stem cell research, whereby these platforms should facilitate in efficiently directing uncommitted cells towards the beta cell lineage.
The NIH Human Islet Research Network (HIRN) supports our efforts in this areas via a UC4 mechanism within the Consortium of Human Islet Biomimetics (CHIB). Our project, “Engineering a Human Physiomimetic Islet Microsystem”, seeks to identify the culture and matrix configurations needed to support human islets, as well as to facilitate beta cell differentiation. This project is in collaboration with Dr. Ashutosh Agarwal and Dr Camillo Ricordi at the University of Miami.