Javier Ramón Azcón

Institut de Bioenginyeria de Catalunya

The IBEC’s groundbreaking project, Uniink, aims to revolutionize the treatment of type 1 diabetes by leveraging cellular therapy and 3D bioprinting. Diabetes affects 422 million globally, with 1.5 million annual deaths. Uniink employs biocompatible microspheres, generated through 3D bioprinting, loaded with insulin-secreting cells. This innovative approach overcomes the challenges of traditional treatments like donor scarcity and immunosuppression.

IBEC’s “gym on a chip” extends this innovation by simulating the interaction between pancreatic insulin-producing cells and muscle cells. Skeletal muscle cells and pancreatic islets, containing insulin-producing Beta cells, are placed in different compartments with controlled channels for communication.

Electrically stimulating muscle cells induces contraction, mirroring physical exercise, directly impacting insulin production by pancreatic cells.

This “multi-organ-on-chip” integrates a complex biosensor platform to monitor insulin and interleukin 6 (IL-6) levels, the latter produced by muscles, signalling the pancreas to increase insulin production during exercise. The comprehensive approach simulates dynamic interactions between relevant organs, offering insights crucial for drug development. The chip’s ability to recreate 3D tissue structures and dynamic responses to exercise positions it as a cutting-edge tool in diabetes research.

Beyond diabetes, IBEC’s approach has broad implications in pharmaceutical research, allowing the study of various diseases in more realistic conditions. In summary, Uniink and the “gym on a chip” mark significant strides in diabetes research, promising more effective therapies and improving the quality of life for those affected.