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Islet-cell transplantation is a life-saving treatment in patients with Type 1 diabetes, stabilising blood glucose control and even leading to insulin independence. Transplant outcomes are highly associated with islet numbers and their viability. However to optimise islet numbers and improve transplant outcomes new methods are required to objectively assess islet viability, which are rapid, accurate, and label-free.
My project work was to stimulate isolated islets with glucose and measure insulin and electrical activity in single mouse and human islets. I used suction electrodes, microelectrode arrays and ELISA measurements of insulin secretion to establish if electrical activity is a good proxy for islet health. Islets were continuously perfused with a custom microfluidic device that will allowed a fraction by fraction analysis of insulin secretion. The results will be used to establish if the electrical activity of islets is a good proxy for islet health.
The NHS estimates that there are 3.2 million people who have been diagnosed with diabetes in the UK in 2013 and that by 2025, it is estimated that five million people will have diabetes in the UK.
Islet transplantation is a life-saving treatment in patients with Type 1 diabetes, stabilising blood glucose control. Transplantation of these cells can also allow patients to produce their own insulin without the need for regular medicine this is known as insulin independence and which would drastically improve the quality of life of patients. However current treatments are held back by low availability of healthy transplantation cells. This research would offer a better assessment of the quality of Islets before transplantation.
The results showed that the ELISA method poorly correlated with electrical measurements of Islet health. The project revealed some issues that can be encountered regarding cell transport and residual insulin deposits on cell membranes which make the ELISA test a poor indicator of Islet viability.
However further work is required to associate Islet health the insulin response to the electrical activity. The next course of action would be to continuously perfuse Islets with a custom microfluidic device that will allow a fraction by fraction analysis of insulin secretion. New Multi-electrode arrays (MEAs) developed by the Brown group show significant advantages over older extracellular recording techniques. These results in conjunction with further results will be used to establish if the electrical activity of islets is a good proxy for islet health.
I was able to interact with and be part of several of the laboratory projects as well as learning the techniques of MEA, Patch clamp and ELISA from Dr. Brown. Amongst these, I concentrated on ELISA and took the opportunity to propose and execute my own experiment as well as learn the logistics of practical research, in terms of time constraints, finances and how to optimise experiments to make full use of the specialised lab equipment.
I received training on handling and storing cell cultures and understanding the important ethical and safety issues surrounding handling biological material. I worked within several active PhD projects and saw the practical financial aspects of running a project which gave me greater insight into real-world research.
“Thanks to the funding from the Carnegie Trust I have been able to receive great insight and practice in research and have now decided to apply for a PhD after my Master’s degree.”
To apply! You will never get offered a scholarship if you don’t submit the application, it’s always worth the shot. You’ve got to first convince yourself that you’re the right person to receive the funding then your passion will show through in your application.
Awarded: Undergraduate Vacation Scholarship
University: Heriot-Watt University