We have some very hopeful news for you: Recently, two people who had been diagnosed with type I diabetes were the first ever to receive special implants for treating their condition.
These implants contain cells which are generated from embryonic stem cells. The point in this being that, whenever their blood sugar levels rise, the implants will react accordingly by releasing enough insulin and restore those levels to normal.
From the 442 million people who have been diagnosed with diabetes worldwide, about 10% have type I diabetes.
This type is the result of one’s immune system attacking the insulin-producing cells in one’s pancreas by mistake. And for over 15 years, many researchers have tried to find a way to replace these using stem cells.
Unfortunately, there has been more than one obstacle on that road. One of the major ones was trying to get the stem cells to work in one’s body. Well a company located in San Diego, CA, called Viacyte, is trying to find a way to achieve this.
Their implant (which is no bigger than a credit card) is called PEC-Direct, and it contains cells which are derived from stem cells. Ones which can hopefully mature inside one’s body and replace the islet cells which type I diabetes destroys.
They insert this implant into one’s forearm, just beneath the skin. Its intention is to compensate for those missing special islet cells by releasing insulin automatically whenever one’s blood glucose levels become too high.
Viacyte’s Paul Laikind claims that if it works, then they would call it a functional cure. He went on to say that it won’t be a real cure since it doesn’t address the autoimmune disease itself.
Rather, it replaces the cells one has lost, which is still a major step in the right direction, not to mention an excellent cause for hope among diabetics around the world.
They had already tested quite a similar device to this on nineteen individuals diagnosed with diabetes; only it used smaller cell numbers. And once they were implanted, these cells did indeed mature into islet cells like it was hoped they would.
But in that particular trial, they didn’t use enough cells to try and treat this condition. Other than the two people already implanted with Viacyte’s PEC-Direct, a third will follow shortly.
What precisely happens once they have implanted them into the host is the following: the devices outer fabric contains pores, which will allow the penetration of the blood vessels inside the individual.
They will then proceed to nourish the progenitor islet cells. And once those cells have fully matured (a process which, according to estimations, should take about 3 months) they should be capable of monitoring one’s blood sugar levels and releasing insulin when necessary.
If such a method is effective, while it will not officially cure type I diabetics, it will still release them from the burden of having to constantly check their blood glucose levels and inject themselves with insulin.
However, in this case, they would need to take immunosuppressive drugs. This is in order to stop their immune system from mistakenly killing these new helpful cells.
This new method can change the way we see type I diabetes altogether. It doesn’t have to be so scary anymore. While this isn’t an official cure, it can certainly be very helpful and brings hope for the future that a cure to end the disease completely may still be on the horizon.
After all, unlike the donor pancreas method used for over 20 years now, stem cells are limitless. Which means there would be no shortage of this ‘functional cure’. We can only hope for the best and cheer on this progress.