Acute Ischemia Induced by High-Density Culture Increases Cytokine Expression and Diminishes the Function and Viability of Highly Purified Human Islets of Langerhans

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Encapsulation devices have the potential to enable cell-based insulin replacement therapies (such as human islet or stem cell–derived β cell transplantation) without immunosuppression. However, reasonably sized encapsulation devices promote ischemia due to high β cell densities creating prohibitively large diffusional distances for nutrients. It is hypothesized that even acute ischemic exposure will compromise the therapeutic potential of cell-based insulin replacement. In this study, the acute effects of high-density ischemia were investigated in human islets to develop a detailed profile of early ischemia induced changes and targets for intervention.


Human islets were exposed in a pairwise model simulating high-density encapsulation to normoxic or ischemic culture for 12 hours, after which viability and function were measured. RNA sequencing was conducted to assess transcriptome-wide changes in gene expression.


Islet viability after acute ischemic exposure was reduced compared to normoxic culture conditions (P < 0.01). Insulin secretion was also diminished, with ischemic β cells losing their insulin secretory response to stimulatory glucose levels (P < 0.01). RNA sequencing revealed 657 differentially expressed genes following ischemia, with many that are associated with increased inflammatory and hypoxia-response signaling and decreased nutrient transport and metabolism.


In order for cell-based insulin replacement to be applied as a treatment for type 1 diabetes, oxygen and nutrient delivery to β cells will need to be maintained. We demonstrate that even brief ischemic exposure such as would be experienced in encapsulation devices damages islet viability and β cell function and leads to increased inflammatory signaling.

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