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Restorative Medicine
Cell Encapsulation May Hold the Key to Preventing Cell Transplant Rejection
Cell Encapsulation May Hold the Key to Preventing Cell Transplant Rejection
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Cell transplantation is a promising option for managing endocrine disorders such as type I diabetes and testosterone deficiency, but the risk of rejection by the recipient’s immune system and the resulting life-long dependency on immunosuppressive drugs has been a major obstacle to long-term success.
In order to protect transplanted cells and improve cell viability, several research groups have tried enclosing the cells within a capsule that acts as a physical barrier. However, issues with inadequate blood supply and oxygen permeability within the capsule have limited their ability to support the transplanted cells.
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Alessandro Grattoni, PhD
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A. Osama Gaber, MD
A Houston Methodist research team of nanomedicine and cell transplant experts led by Alessandro Grattoni, PhD, the Frank J. and Jean Raymond Centennial Chair in the Department of Nanomedicine, has developed a novel encapsulation platform for transplanted cells called neovascularized implantable cell homing and encapsulation, or NICHE, that directly addresses these limitations.

NICHE is implanted just under the skin, permitting easy access for replenishing transplanted cells or drugs when needed. To create the NICHE platform, the researchers used 3D printing technology because it allows easy customization based on cell type and rapid, cost-effective scalability.
In a preclinical study published in Biomaterials, Grattoni and his team successfully used NICHE to transplant testosterone-producing testicular Leydig cells, offering a potential new treatment option for testosterone deficiency. The NICHE platform effectively established blood supply within the capsule and achieved sustained immunosuppressant delivery. Promisingly, the transplanted cells remained viable for the length of the study. Building upon their work with Leydig cells, the team is evaluating the efficacy of pancreatic islet cell transplantation using NICHE in preclinical diabetes models.
Credit: Biomaterials Fig. 1. NICHE deployment strategy. (A) Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) hydrogel-filled NICHE is implanted in a subcutaneous pocket to stimulate vascularization. (B) Prevascularization phase, with blood vessel formation across the cell reservoir. (C) Transcutaneous loading of immunosuppressant into NICHE drug reservoir using loading and venting needles. Needles are advanced into the NICHE drug reservoir through self-sealing silicon ports. Upon drug loading, the venting needle permits flushing of the reservoir and removal of entrapped air or liquid. (D) Transcutaneous transplantation of cells into the vascularized and immunosuppressed cell reservoir using a needle connected to a cell-loaded syringe.
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