UCSF makes nanotechnology breakthrough

March 5, 2009 6:28:57 AM PST
Researchers at UC San Francisco are giving us a glimpse of the promise that is nanotechnology. They are creating what you could call an artificial pancreas -- which may someday help millions of people live longer and healthier lives.

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The challenge for diabetes researchers has always been how to replace or repair a pancreas which is not producing enough insulin. Up to this point every device implanted has been destroyed by the body's autoimmune process, but now, Dr. Tejal Desai, director of the UCSF lab of therapeutic micro and nanotechnology has created the nanoporous biocapsule - a stealth capsule you could call it.

"The capsule creates a protective covering for the cells - so the body doesn't see the cells. This is an array of nanoporous capsules and each one of these has a little membrane that has channels that are about 20 nanometers - so we fill it with cells and the cells secret insulin out of those channels and glucose comes in, so sugar, which stimulates the cells to produce insulin," said Dr. Desai.

Dr. Desai says the implanted nanoporous biocapsule releases what's needed when it's needed. Traditional delivery systems can release too much too fast.

Silicon wafers patterned with nanoscale features are still being tested to see which design best controls the release of the cells.

The technique created in the lab at the UCSF Mission Bay Facility also holds endless possibilities for delivering treatments to people suffering from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, hepatitis and other devastating illnesses. It is also expected to assist with stem cell treatments.

"You are going to need a carrier so that you don't necessarily just squirt cells within the body and have them go everywhere, but actually confine them, so that you can use them as a therapeutic device," said Dr. Desai.

While researchers at UCSF say this technology is still three to five years away from being used in humans, they take great pride that the research going on right here and right now - will make life better for millions of people worldwide.

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