In this study, we first examined in vitro a polyvinyl alcohol membrane to be used to contain hybrid islet cells, and second we tested a bioartificial pancreas with entrapment of pancreatic islets in polyvinyl alcohol membrane in rats with experimentally induced diabetes. The permeability of the polyvinyl alcohol membrane to different substances was studied in a two-cell chamber system. Glucose, insulin, and nutrients passed through the membrane easily, whereas the passage of immunoglobulin G was completely prevented, indicating that this membrane could be effective in protecting the bioartificial pancreas from immunorejection. Approximately 2,000 islets collected from three Sprague-Dawley rats were enclosed in a mesh-reinforced polyvinyl alcohol tube and transplanted into the peritoneal cavity of six Wistar rats with streptozotocin-induced diabetes. Their nonfasting serum glucose levels were significantly decreased for at least 12 days. Six diabetic rats receiving intraperitoneal transplantation of free islets without the tube showed a slight but significant decrease in nonfasting serum glucose levels for only 3 days. One diabetic rat with transplantation of the bioartificial pancreas had a significant and sustained decrease in nonfasting glucose levels from pretransplanted levels of 440-500 mg/dl to a mean value of 162 +/- 13 mg/dl for over 3 months without immunosuppression. The bioartificial pancreas was then removed, and glucose levels gradually increased to over 500 mg/dl. The results of the present study suggest that a bioartificial pancreas with entrapment of islets in a polyvinyl alcohol membrane could be a promising therapeutic approach to diabetes mellitus.