Human trials have begun to assess if stem cell treatment could eliminate insulin injections for people type 1 diabetes.
San Diego-based ViaCyte have teamed up with Johnson and Johnson to further the development of a stem cell technology that has already proved successful in animal tests. The companies claim it is the first stem cell treatment to make it to patient testing.
The VC-01 therapy consists of human pancreatic progenitor cells, known as PEC-01 cells, which are contained in the Encaptra drug delivery system – a semi-permeable encapsulation device.
These PEC-01 cells are prompted to turn into insulin-producing cells during therapy, and the capsule ensures they remain protected from immune system attack in patients with type 1 diabetes.
“These cells are human cells, but they’re not the patient’s cells, so the patient’s immune system would want to remove those cells – attack those cells,” said ViaCyte Chief Executive Officer Paul Laikind.
Animal studies have shown that the cells not only survived, but did exactly what they were supposed to do. In human patients with type 1 diabetes, successful treatment could eliminate the need for daily insulin injections and provide long-term control of blood glucose levels.
A small number of US and Canadian patients with type 1 diabetes will have the capsule implanted under the skin as part of the STEP ONE clinical trial. If human testing is successful, the treatment could be available in a matter of years. It could also eventually help insulin-treated type 2 diabetes patients.
“This one is potentially the real deal,” Dr. Tom Donner, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study, told Associated Press. “It’s like making a new pancreas that makes all the hormones needed to control blood sugar.”
Last month, further progress was made in the fight against type 1 diabetes when Harvard researchers announced they were able to halt the disease for six months.

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