Assessment of porcine endogenous retrovirus transmission across an alginate barrier used for the encapsulation of porcine islets

Claire Crossan, Nizar I. Mourad, Karen Smith, Pierre Gianello, Linda Scobie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
134 Downloads (Pure)


Subcutaneous implantation of a macroencapsulated patch containing human allogenic islets has been successfully used to alleviate type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) in a human recipient without the need for immunosuppression. The use of encapsulated porcine islets to treat T1DM has also been reported. Although no evidence of pathogen transfer using this technology has been reported to date, we deemed it appropriate to determine if the encapsulation technology would prevent the release of virus, in particular, the porcine endogenous retrovirus (PERV).

HEK293 (human epithelial kidney) and swine testis (ST) cells were co-cultured with macroencapsulated pig islets embedded in an alginate patch, macroencapsulated PK15 (swine kidney epithelial) cells embedded in an alginate patch and free PK15 cells. Cells and supernatant were harvested at weekly time points from the cultures for up to 60 days and screened for evidence of PERV release using qRT-PCR to detect PERV RNA and SG-PERT to detect reverse transcriptase (RT).

No PERV virus, or evidence of PERV replication, was detected in the culture medium of HEK293 or pig cells cultured with encapsulated porcine islets. Increased PERV activity relative to the background was not detected in ST cells cultured with encapsulated PK15 cells. However, PERV was detected in 1 of the 3 experimental replicates of HEK293 cells cultured with encapsulated PK15 cells. Both HEK293 and ST cells cultured with free PK15 cells showed an increase in RT detection.

With the exception of 1 replicate, there does not appear to be evidence of transmission of replication competent PERV from the encapsulated islet cells or the positive control PK15 cells across the alginate barrier. The detection of PERV would suggest the alginate barrier of this replicate may have become compromised, emphasizing the importance of quality control when producing encapsulated islet patches.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12409
Issue number6
Early online date21 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • alginate barrier
  • islet encapsulation
  • porcine endogenous retrovirus
  • zoonosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Transplantation
  • Immunology


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