Irish-based scientists are to lead a new €8.9m international study aimed at developing natural materials and new surgical devices for the treatment of diabetes.

The DRIVE consortium will study new ways of enhancing the transplant and survival of clusters of pancreatic cells that sense blood sugar levels and release insulin to maintain normal levels.

Currently the most common treatment for diabetes is daily injections of insulin.

However, some sufferers cannot control their insulin levels sufficiently and require a transplantation of pancreatic cells which can produce insulin.

Up to four pancreases are required to get enough cells for the treatment.

However, this coupled with a shortage in the supply of donor pancreases, as well as poor survival and retention rates of transplanted cells make this method far from ideal.

Instead, researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the Science Foundation Ireland-funded AMBER materials science centre have come up with a new method.

It involves the creation of a new substance containing a combination of pancreatic cells inside a gel that mimics the structure of the pancreas.

The gel is housed within a capsule, which is inserted inside the patient using a minimally invasive specialised injection procedure being developed by Boston Scientific in conjunction with RCSI.

According to the DRIVE team the method should give natural glucose control for up to five years, which is considerably longer than the two years offered by the current transplantation technique.

The capsule can be retrieved and replenished once it is empty.

The shell of the capsule also releases an immunosuppressant slowly over time, which reduces the need for the patient to be given long-term anti-rejection medication.

Fourteen academic and industry partners from seven European countries are involved in the DRIVE consortium, which has won €8.9m in funding from the EU's research fund, Horizon 2020.

The programme will be co-ordinated by Dr Garry Duffy, from the Department of Anatomy and Tissue Engineering Research Group at RCSI, and will create 13 jobs in Ireland.

Researchers from Dublin City University, University College Dublin and Boston Scientific and Oxford University are also involved in the research.

Over 225,000 people are estimated to be living with diabetes in Ireland alone, with 382 million sufferers worldwide in 2013.

5.1 million deaths or 8.4% of global adult mortality is attributable to diabetes.