Sixteen months ago, when my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, I was told by doctors there is no cure. In the hours/days/weeks/months following the diagnosis, I searched frantically trying to prove them wrong. I discovered a lot of research that made me hopeful for the future–a researcher at Johns Hopkins who was giving newly diagnosed T1D patients who were in the honeymoon stage a pill that stopped the auto-immune response (too late for my son); a Harvard researcher who was injecting lab-produced beta cells in the gut of T1D patients every two-three weeks to simulate the production of insulin (see my previous post); a scientist in Denmark that was able to regenerate pancreatic beta cells in lab rats. But these were just possibilities that promised a future cure but could not deliver it in the short term. Today, that has changed.
ViaCyte, a private medical research company in California, has successfully implanted embryonic stem cells into a human being. Unlike other stem cell therapies being tested around the globe, the cells in this therapy have been programmed so that they are protected not only from the body’s natural instinct to reject them, but also against the autoimmune response that killed the test subject’s pancreatic cells leading to T1D. In previously published research on stem cell therapies conducted by other entities, the implanted stem cells have all succumbed to the on-going autoimmune response that causes T1D. ViaCyte has succeeded where many others have not.
Over the next few weeks, the implanted cells are expected to mature into Islet cells and to start producing insulin (hormone necessary to deliver sugar to the body’s cells to use for energy), glucagon (the body’s natural hormone that responds to and corrects low blood sugar), somatostatin (the pancreatic hormone that naturally stops the release of insulin and glucagon as needed) and amylin (another hormone that regulates secretion of glucagon) permanently. If all goes well, Viacyte will recruit 40 patients to participate in a first stage clinical trial at the beginning of 2015.
This is incredible news. I never imagined sixteen months ago that we’d be so close to a cure in such a short time. You can read more about ViaCyte’s success here.