Research Highlight

Silk protein helps take artificial pancreas a step closer to reality

doi:10.1038/nindia.2017.131 Published online 22 October 2017

Researchers have synthesised a silk-based three-dimensional implantable scaffold that can help grow insulin-producing cells, making it potentially useful in replacing damaged pancreas tissue through minimally invasive surgery1.

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that affects millions globally. In this disease, the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, thus increasing blood glucose levels. Typical therapies such as long-term insulin injections can develop life-threatening complications in the patient.In their search for a safer therapy, scientists led by Biman B. Mandal from the Indian Institute of Technology Guhawati in Assam, prepared a biocompatible scaffold by blending silk protein with two natural polymers. They then tested the scaffold’s potential to grow insulin-producing cells and secrete insulin.

The scaffold was coated with a semi-permeable membrane that allows glucose and oxygen to enter and insulin to exit, simultaneously restricting the entry of destructive immune cells. When implanted in mice, the scaffold was found to be non-toxic. 

The cells in the scaffold secreted a sufficient amount of insulin when challenged with varying glucose concentrations — a sign of a healthy pancreas. The scaffold could also be loaded with immunosuppressive drugs to thwart any attack by a host’s immune cells.

“The scaffold can act as a reloadable system which might be refilled with fresh insulin-secreting cells and patient-specific stem-cell-derived insulin-producing cells to make it clinically useful,” says Mandal.


1. Kumar, M. et al. Localized immunomodulatory silk macrocapsules for islet-like spheroid formation and sustained insulin production. ACS. Biomater. Sci. Eng. (2017) doi: 10.1021/acsbiomaterials.7b00218