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Scientists have developed a capsule made from seaweed extract or preserving insulin-producing pancreatic cells, offering hope to diabetics to lead a needle-free life.

Patients with type 1 diabetes require daily insulin injections. Pancreatic islet transplantation is an effective treatment that can dramatically reduce daily jabs or even eliminate dependence on external insulin, researchers said.

So far only human islets can be transplanted and their supply is low.Cryopreservation is the method commonly used for the islet preservation and transportation. However, the freezing process poses a challenge. As the cells are cooled, water in and around them freezes. Ice crystals have sharp edges that can pierce membranes and compromise cell viability .

Researchers led by Amy Shen in Japan developed a cryopreservation method that helps to protect pancreatic islets from ice damage.

The technique employs a droplet microfluidic device to encapsulate pancreatic islets in hydrogel made of alginate, a natural polymer extracted rom seaweed. These capsules have a unique microstructure -a porous network and considerable amount of non-freezable water, which does not form ice due to the strong association between water molecules and the hydrogel networks.

Islet encapsulation reduces the risk of rejection of transplanted cells by the recipient. The hydrogel capsule allows small molecules, like nutrients and islet secretions, to pass through the membrane, but prevents direct contact between implanted islets and host cells.

Encapsulation also may prevent an attack on transplants by the autoimmune response that destroyed the patient's own islets in the first place.
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