Type-1 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects an estimated 42 million people worldwide, and occurs when the pancreas produces little to no insulin. Those with the condition must take supplemental insulin so their bodies can process sugars. But now, researchers at ViaCyte, a regenerative medicine company, have some good news: They're working on a therapy based on stem cells that can automatically release insulin into the body when it's needed.
The treatment is specifically aimed at patients with high-risk type-1 diabetes. ViaCyte estimates that around 140,000 people in the US and Canada suffer from the condition, which can cause life-threatening events. The use of stem cells to replace pancreatic insulin cells has been tried before, but without much success. ViaCyte's approach shows promise because the stem cells can mature within the body itself through an implant the company calls PEC-Direct.
There has already been a round of clinical trials to test whether the stem cells could fully grow into the type of cells necessary to produce insulin -- called islet cells. That was a success. But the number of cells within the implants wasn't enough to actually treat the patients; it was solely to test whether the cells could, in fact, be grown. Now, in coordination with JDRF, an organization that funds type-1 diabetes research, ViaCyte has implanted PEC-Directs into two patients as a trial.
It's important to note that this isn't a full cure. It's what ViaCyte President and CEO Paul Laikind calls "a functional cure." It doesn't address and treat the specific causes of the condition. Additionally, patients using this treatment would be required to take immunosuppressive drugs to protect the created cells from the body's immune system, according to New Scientist. Regardless, it's great news for anyone with the condition, especially considering so many stem cell therapies have turned into predatory and useless treatments.