Islet transplants from fish?
The shortage of human organ donors has led scientists to investigate animals as a potential source for transplantable organs or tissues. Pigs are often mentioned because of their size: similar to ours. Emory researchers have been exploring the possibility of using different animals for xenotransplantation: fish, specifically tilapia.
Why fish? The review details several advantages tilapia may offer in the field of islet transplant, namely:
*tilapia have large, distinct islet organs called Brockmann bodies that are easy to isolate
*tilapia grow quickly and cost less to raise than pigs
*tilapia islets are resistant to hypoxia, thought to contribute to graft loss
*tilapia do not express alpha (1,3) gal, a carbohydrate structure present on mammalian cells that causes hyperacute rejection [although, this issue has been addressed in genetically modified pigs].
Research has shown that encapsulated tilapia islets can maintain normal blood sugar regulation in diabetic mice. The fish islets last several months when the mice are given immunosuppressive drugs. The capsules are made of the same stuff, alginate, used by cardiologists Rebecca Levit and W. Robert Taylor to package mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Indeed, Levit and Taylor have credited this team of researchers for optimizing alginate encapsulation for cell therapy. Dr. Taylor is a faculty member in the MSP program.