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Arturo Vegas hits the play button on his tablet computer. A video pops up showing the inside of a monkey's abdomen. “You see this blistering?” asks Vegas, a chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. He points to the lining of the abdominal cavity onto which hundreds of tiny balls resembling semi-translucent fish eggs are attached. “Those are all capsules, and what we're trying to do here is wash them out with a saline solution.” A large needle comes into view and squirts the capsules with fluid in an effort to retrieve them for analysis. They don't budge.

Insulin-producing islet cells could hold the secret to curing type 1 diabetes—if only scientists could figure out a way to encapsulate and transplant them into the body. But first, the right biocompatible material must be found to hold these precious cells. A team of bioengineers thinks it has discovered one. Elie Dolgin reports.

Date: 
Tuesday, January 7, 2014