Experimental Device Shows Promise in Treating Type 1 Diabetes

Promising Results Shown for Type 1 Diabetes with Stem Cell Therapy Implant

Stem Cell Implant Shows Promise For Type 1 Diabetes

Dec. 11, 2023 – Brace yourselves, folks, because there’s some exciting news in the world of diabetes research! A groundbreaking study has found that an experimental device, packed with millions of stem cells, has managed to significantly reduce the need for insulin shots in individuals with type 1 diabetes. This treatment, my friends, could potentially be the cure we’ve all been waiting for! 1

The brilliant minds behind this study, hailing from the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health, used tiny implants called VC-02, which are filled with lab-grown pancreatic cells. Think of these implants as tiny superheroes, swooping in to save the day and restore insulin production. 2

The study, published in the esteemed journal Nature Biotechnology, involved 10 participants who were unable to produce insulin naturally. But after just six months with the implant, three of them experienced amazing improvements. Their blood sugar levels were finally within the normal range, and the need for external insulin was greatly reduced. Folks, this is what we call a game-changer! 3

Dr. David Thompson, the principal investigator at the Vancouver trial site, and clinical director of the Vancouver General Hospital Diabetes Centre, is feeling optimistic. Like a beacon of hope, he proclaims, “I believe this is going to turn into a cure as soon as 2024.” That’s right, my friends, a cure for type 1 diabetes could be just around the corner! 4

Now, let’s do a quick science lesson. Type 1 diabetes is a condition where the immune system goes on a rampage, attacking the insulin-making cells in the pancreas. It’s like a zombie apocalypse in your body, but instead of craving brains, your immune system craves destruction. Insulin, as you know, is the hormone responsible for regulating sugar in the blood. Think of it as the superhero controller, making sure everything is just right. Sadly, in this case, the immune system decides to overthrow the hero and all hell breaks loose. 5

Type 1 diabetes, or as some like to call it, juvenile diabetes (even though I know plenty of grown-ups with it), is most commonly diagnosed in the 4-6-year-old range and during early puberty. Now, interestingly, in the United States, non-Hispanic white folks seem to have a knack for this particular condition, and it affects men and women equally. Having a close family member with the disease also increases the risk. Currently, around 1.24 million people in the US live with type 1 diabetes, but brace yourselves, because that number is expected to skyrocket to 5 million by 2050. It’s like a diabetes festival, and nobody wants an invite! 6

Now, let’s take a look at the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. With type 1, it’s like the body’s insulin factory has gone on a permanent vacation. It’s closed for business, folks. This means people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin from the start, no ifs, ands, or buts. But hey, thanks to the discovery of insulin a century ago, diabetes is no longer the Grim Reaper it once was. It’s more like a manageable roommate who overstays their welcome. 7

On the other hand, type 2 diabetes is a different ballgame altogether. In this case, the body is slacking off and not using insulin properly. It’s like having a rebellious teenager in your system, refusing to follow the rules. But fear not, my friends, lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes external insulin shots can help keep things under control. It’s like having a stern talking-to with your body, asking it to get its act together. 8

Now, let’s journey back to the 1920s, where a 14-year-old boy, on the verge of death from diabetes, received the very first insulin treatment. Imagine the scene – a daring medical discovery that turned the tides in the fight against diabetes. Within 24 hours, his skyrocketing blood glucose levels plummeted to near-normal. It was a superhero moment, my friends, and the beginning of a new era in medicine. 9

But wait, there’s more! Our heroes on the scientific front have teamed up with ViaCyte, a biotechnology company, to develop this experimental cell therapy. Picture a tiny device implanted just beneath the skin, about the size of a small bandage. But this isn’t your ordinary bandage, folks. This tiny contraption, unlike a glucose monitor (which only estimates blood glucose levels), delivers a steady supply of insulin to the body. It’s like having a personal insulin factory right beneath your skin! 10

This fantastic trial is built upon a previous study in 2021 that showed this approach could help the human body produce insulin. But our intrepid researchers didn’t stop there. They amped things up, increasing the number of devices for each participant and improving the design to ensure the lab-grown cells could survive and thrive. It’s like an epic upgrade, taking this therapy to the next level. 11

Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the study. All the participants started with absolutely zero insulin production. They underwent surgery at various sites in Vancouver, Belgium, and the United States to receive up to 10 device implants each. After six months, three of them showed a remarkable boost in insulin production that remained steady throughout the entire year-long study. One participant even saw a 44% reduction in their need for additional daily insulin. It’s like a scientific miracle, folks! 12

Co-author Timothy Kieffer, who is both a professor and a former chief scientific officer at ViaCyte, gives us a fantastic analogy. He compares each device to a miniature insulin-producing factory, packaged to perfection to recreate the blood sugar-regulating functions of a healthy pancreas. It’s like having a team of tiny factory workers doing their job 24/7! 13

And here’s the cherry on top, my friends: the potential to prevent numerous health complications associated with type 1 diabetes. We’re talking about avoiding blindness, kidney problems, limb loss, and even those pesky blood sugar drops during beauty sleep. Diabetes, being the troublemaker it is, also significantly increases the chances of heart attacks and strokes. So the cure for type 1 diabetes would be like vanquishing a horde of villains, avoiding these health troubles and living our best lives! 14

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room. The trial does have a few limitations, according to Dr. Robert Gabbay, chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association. Firstly, it’s a small-scale trial, so we can’t get too ahead of ourselves just yet. Secondly, the technology fell short of normalizing blood glucose levels, which is the ultimate goal. But hey, baby steps, people, baby steps. We’re making progress, and that’s what matters. 15

Replacing cells in the body has always been a challenge due to our immune system’s pesky habit of attacking the newbies. It’s like welcoming someone to the neighborhood with a bucket of rotten tomatoes. But fear not, our clever scientists are already on it. This early study has shown some proof of concept, paving the way for future breakthroughs in cell therapy. It’s like the first chapter of an epic series filled with twists and turns! 16

So, my friends, keep your hopes high and your spirits higher. We may be on the verge of a major breakthrough in the treatment of type 1 diabetes. And remember, despite the challenges, diabetes is no longer a death sentence. It’s just another hurdle we can overcome, armed with the power of science, innovation, and a little bit of hope. Stay strong, stay healthy! 17

References


  1. Experimental Device Helps Individuals with Type 1 Diabetes↩︎

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