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Fields & Applications Clinical, Micro/Nano-scale

Stimulating and Sensing Insulin Secretion

Diabetes is a global issue of increasing magnitude. In 2017, at least 30 million people in the US had the condition – and another 85 million could be described as “prediabetic” (1). Beta cell transplants represent one therapeutic avenue, but current approaches for confirming the post-transplant functionality of these cells are labor intensive and time consuming, producing data that are difficult to interpret.

Seeking a new approach, Kit Parker and colleagues at Harvard and The University of Florida combined microfluidic technology and stem cell biology to develop an “islet-on-a-chip” device capable of measuring insulin secreted in response to glucose stimulus (2); more specifically, the device is able to continuously sense and quantify insulin secretion by an automated, on-chip immunoassay and fluorescence anisotropy, respectively. “By incorporating microfluidics and optical sensors into a single device, we’ve been able to acquire reams of information regarding cellular performance and response times – in near-real time,” says Parker.

“Now that we have a tool, we can begin to develop protocols around quality control – this will help us to know exactly what we are transplanting into the patient,” says Parker. Though the device has hurdles to jump ahead of clinical use, Parker believes it could have an immediate impact on diabetes research. “There is a lot to learn about diabetes using tools like this,” he says. “This granular understanding of the temporal dynamics of cells is unprecedented, and it’s likely that future findings will challenge the established canons in diabetes.”

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  1. CDC, “National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017” (2017). Available at: https://bit.ly/2tnbN35. Accessed September 4, 2019.
  2. AL Glieberman et al., “Synchronized stimulation and continuous insulin sensing in a microfluidic human Islet on a Chip designed for scalable manufacturing”, Lab Chip [Epub ahead of print] (2019). DOI: 10.1039/c9lc00253g

About the Author

Jonathan James

Having thrown myself into various science communication activities whilst studying science at University, I soon came to realize where my passions truly lie; outside the laboratory, telling the stories of the remarkable men and women conducting groundbreaking research. Now, at Texere, I have the opportunity to do just that.

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