Li W, Lee S, Ma M, Kim SM, Guye P, Pancoast JR, Anderson DG, Weiss R, Lee RT, Hammond PT. 2013. Microbead-based biomimetic synthetic neighbors enhance survival and function of rat pancreatic β-cells. Scientific reports. 3:2863. Pubmed: 24091640 DOI:10.1038/srep02863


Diabetes is caused by the loss or dysfunction of insulin-secreting β-cells in the pancreas. β-cells reduce their mass and lose insulin-producing ability in vitro, likely due to insufficient cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix (ECM) interactions as β-cells lose their native microenvironment. Herein, we built an ex-vivo cell microenvironment by culturing primary β-cells in direct contact with 'synthetic neighbors', cell-sized soft polymer microbeads that were modified with cell-cell signaling factors as well as components from pancreatic-tissue-specific ECMs. This biomimetic 3D microenvironment was able to promote native cell-cell and cell-ECM interactions. We obtained sustained maintenance of β-cell function in vitro enhanced cell viability from the few days usually observed in 2D culture to periods exceeding three weeks, with enhanced β-cell stability and insulin production. Our approach can be extended to create a general 3D culture platform for other cell types.

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Rich Lee seeks to understand heart failure and metabolic diseases that accompany human aging, and translate that understanding into therapies. Lee is an active clinician, regularly treating patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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