Could tiny packets of stem cells help people with type 1 diabetes to produce their own insulin again? JDRF has joined forces with Viacyte, a US based biotechnology company, and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to help answer this question.
The organisations have come together to conduct preclinical testing of a first-of-its-kind cell therapy for type 1. The potential treatment is an innovative combination of cells and a special ‘packaging’ material. One of the unusual things about the therapy is that the cells, derived from embryonic stem cells, are not mature when they are packaged – rather they are immature human pancreatic hormone cells.
Initial tests have shown that once implanted, within their protective packaging, these immature cells develop into mature hormone producing cells, including the vital insulin producing beta cells that are missing in people with type 1. Tests in rodents have shown that once mature, these packets of cells are capable of regulating blood glucose levels.
Existing cell therapies such as islet and pancreas transplantation have the potential to cure type 1 by restoring normal islet function in people with the condition. But because there is a huge shortage of pancreatic islets from organ donors, it is important to find a replenishable supply of functional insulin-producing cells. This product, by using stem cells rather than tissue form organ donors could overcome this hurdle. Furthermore, packaging the cells in a device that creates a physical barrier around the cells (a process called "encapsulation") has the potential to protect the transplanted cells from immune rejection, and may eliminate the need for chronic immunosuppressive drugs.
The three-year series of preclinical studies being co-funded by JDRF will help prepare the information necessary to apply for regulatory approvals to study the system for safety and efficacy in people with type 1 diabetes.
Rachel Connor, Head of Research Communication at JDRF said ‘JDRF is excited to be working with Viacyte and CIRM on this pioneering project. Encapsulation technologies and stem cell therapies have fantastic potential in treating type 1 diabetes, so this type of innovation could be a huge step forward for people living with the condition.’