Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Achieving the 'impossible'

Grad’s Breakthrough Artificial Pancreas May Help Diabetics (The Daily Californian)

    Even though her colleagues told her it was impossible to create an artificial pancreas that could alleviate diabetes, and that she would never finish it in time to graduate from UC Berkeley, Tejal Desai finished what she set out to do.

    ... Desai, 31, built an implantable device—containing live pancreas cells—that could be used in place of daily insulin injections for diabetics to control their blood sugar levels.

    ... The main challenge hindering scientists was protecting the insulin-producing pancreas cells from attacks from the body’s immune system. In diabetics, the immune system damages these cells.

    It took Desai four years to step over the barriers. She started growing cells on chemically modified silicon, which she used to create a container of silicon membrane covered in tiny pores.

    These pores, which are a billionth of a meter wide, allow glucose, insulin and oxygen to pass through, while blocking larger, harmful immune cells.

    This combination of biology and nanotechnology was unknown when Desai began her research, but bioengineering breakthroughs such as her own are making it a quickly growing field. More here

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