The chemical also seems to let the islet cells better secrete insulin in response to glucose after they're thawed, compared to currently available techniques. The finding could be an important advance in making islet cell transplants a viable treatment option for people with diabetes.
The Duke study was presented April 5 at the annual scientific sessions of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons.
The researchers tested PVP on rat islet cells. They found that up to 80 percent of the islet cells survived freezing intact. Also, the cells had double the ability to secrete insulin in response to the presence of glucose after thawing, compared to cells frozen with dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO).
Currently, islet cells are frozen using DMSO. When thawed, only about half of islet cells are viable.
Specialized pancreas cells called islets of Langerhans produce and secrete insulin, a hormone that converts sugars, starches and other foods into energy needed to fuel body function. These islet cells don't function properly in people with Type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes.
People with Type 1 diabetes must inject themselves with insulin to counter the long-term effects of improper glucose metabolism. These effects include blindness, kidney disease, heart disease, limb loss, nerve damage and potentially death.
Pancreas transplants can help people with Type 1 diabetes, but there are not enough organs for everyone. That's why scientists are trying to improve islet cell transplants, which are still at the experimental stage.
Here's where you can learn more about islet transplantation.