A cure for type 1 diabetes could by just around the corner if scientists' latest and most innovative treatment is successful.
The best current treatment for T1D is insulin balancing through insulin injections. But in cases where patients have hypoglycemia unawareness - when they are unable to recognize dangerous drops in blood sugar levels - and high-risk patients who cannot afford the time it might take for insulin to act, current management methods are not sufficient.
Enter California-based ViaCyte, a company that recently began trials for its new device implant called PEC-Direct, which aims to help patients control life-threatening hypoglycemic episodes.
Each of these credit card-sized implants carries cells built from stem cells. These cells are designed to mature inside the human body into the specialized pancreas cells the immune system destroys in those with T1D. The implant is placed just below the skin and releases insulin whenever necessary.
An initial trial with 19 diabetes patients showed promise. Once implanted, the stem cells matured as expected into islet cells, though the number of cells was not sufficient to treat the condition.
The second trial involves more cells, with the expectation that in three months, they will have matured and perform as hoped: releasing insulin as the patients' bodies need it, replacing injections completely.
If it does work, the only thing T1D patients will have to do is take immunosuppressant drugs to make sure their bodies don’t reject the new cells. That’s a small price to pay to be freed of daily injections. As James Shapiro at the University of Alberta, Canada, told New Scientist, “A limitless source of human insulin-producing cells would be a major step forward on the journey to a potential cure for diabetes.”