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Stem cells may help improve implantable glucose monitors

by Kristina Goodnough - April 14, 2008

Ulrike Klueh is studying the use of adult stem cells to help make the use of long-term implantable wireless glucose sensors a reality, with a $413,000 grant from the American Diabetes Association.

The sensors already exist, but need to be improved, because they tend to stop working fairly quickly.

“A long-term, implantable glucose sensor has remained elusive, because of the rapid loss of sensor function after implantation,” says Klueh, who was a nurse in her native Germany and came to the Storrs campus to pursue a master’s degree in chemical engineering.

She went on to earn a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.

“I like the interdisciplinary focus and the interrelationship of technology, engineering, chemistry, and biological processes,” says Klueh, an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery.

“We believe the loss of sensor function is a result of sensor-induced tissue reactions, including inflammation and fibrosis, which ultimately causes the loss of blood vessels at the site of the sensor,” she adds.

The body reacts to current implantable sensors inserted into the skin the same way it would react to a wood or metal splinter, mainly with inflammation, loss of blood vessels, and fibrosis.

With the grant, Klueh is focusing on new ways to suppress inflammation and fibrosis and promote new blood vessel formation around the sensor, using adult human blood derived stem cells.

Ulrike Klueh, assistant professor of surgery, in her lab at the Health Center.
Ulrike Klueh, assistant professor of surgery, in her lab at the Health Center.
Photo by Kristina Goodnough

If the principle stands up, then blood-derived stem cells from patients with diabetes could be safely removed, remodeled into “gene carrier cells,” and injected back into the same patient at the site of the sensor, to extend the lifespan of the glucose sensor.

The use of an individual’s own stem cells would reduce worries about potential rejection.

Currently, people who have diabetes monitor their blood glucose levels using external monitors and “finger sticking” for blood samples.

“If we can develop a reliable, workable, implantable glucose sensor that can be linked to an insulin pump, together they would act as an artificial pancreas, and that would revolutionize diabetes management,” says Klueh.

If successful, she adds, the same approach could be used to develop implantable sensors that could detect and treat other diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.

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