Insulin-secreting cells expanded into islet-like clusters in a hydrogel biomaterial. (Insulin in green; nuclei in blue).
Stem cells have the capacity to self-renew indefinitely and to form different types of specialized cells. Stem cells could be used to treat degenerative diseases such as diabetes. For instance, insulin-producing cells could be generated in vitro and then infused into diabetic patients to improve blood glucose control. However, many questions remain regarding the safety of the cells produced, the methods by which the cells would be delivered and the long-term function of the cells.
Chemical engineers have applied their expertise to optimize multi-step chemical processes to diverse areas ranging from chemical synthesis, paper manufacturing and water treatment to relatively new fields such as vaccine and recombinant protein production using mammalian cells. In our lab, we approach therapeutic cell manufacturing from a bioprocess optimization perspective. In particular, we are systematically optimizing the media and biomaterials used to produce or deliver therapeutic cells to treat diabetes and cardiovascular disease.