Discovery offers less invasive, more affordable treatment options for type 1 diabetes; Wins ECE ILLINOIS PhD student award


Ryann Monahan, ECE ILLINOIS

An ECE ILLINOIS PhD student behind a new discovery that could offer more universal and affordable treatment options to patients suffering from type 1 diabetes has been honored with a distinguished award by the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

ECE ILLINOIS PhD student Benjamin Lew has been awarded the Britta L. and Charles Wolfe Award” for his research on type 1 diabetes. His team’s research offers an alternative option to a high-cost and invasive pancreas transplant and lifelong insulin administration and glucose monitoring.

The potentially life-changing alternate option is to do an islet transplant using islet cells from pigs. Islets are a cluster of cells that produce insulin. “It is a better option because it is relatively not invasive compared to the whole transplant.  You can also have better control of the glucose level without any insulin therapy,” Lew explained.

The recognition is awarded to researchers conducting research related to diabetes in humans in the fields of Medicine, Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Bioengineering or other relevant fields as determined by a selective interdisciplinary committee. Lew’s recognition included a $1,700 cash award.

Although it is housed at the College of Medicine, the award can be given to any student on the Urbana campus who’s conducting diabetes research, whether it’s an engineer working on a new insulin pump, a sociologist studying the disease’s lifestyle effects, or a medical researcher working to discover a cure. 

Senior Research Scientist Hyungsoo Choi and ECE ILLINOIS Professor Kyekyoon ‘Kevin’ Kim supervised Lew’s research and have been investigating ways to improve the lives of patients and conquer type 1 diabetes for more than a decade.

“I cannot be more pleased that our many years of effort since 2005 in developing precision microcapsules encapsulating islets for the treatment of T1D patients has begun to bear fruits showing that our work is significant, potentially clinically relevant, and is being recognized as such,” said Kim.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates the number of people living with type 1 diabetes has been growing worldwide as associated costs continue to burden both patients and the healthcare system.  

“I truly hope our work advances to a feasible clinical model and contributes to ease both the physical and economic burden of the lives of people who are suffering from type 1 diabetes,” Lew said.

The research team’s paper The paper “Sustained exenatide delivery via intracapsular microspheres for improved survival and function of microencapsulated porcine islets” is available online. DOI: 10.1007/s13346-018-0484-x

ECE ILLINOIS graduate students Benjamin Lew and In-Yong Kim were co-authors of the paper. Kim and Senior Research Scientist Hyungsoo Choi are members of the Holonyak Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory. Kim also is an affiliate professor of bioengineering, neuroscience, materials science and engineeringnuclear, plasma and radiological engineering (NPRE), and the director of the Thin Film and Charged Particle Research Laboratory. This work was carried out in part in the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory Central Facilities and Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois.

More on the Lew’s research can be found here.