A Type 1 diabetes cure may soon be a reality. ViaCyte Inc. and Johnson & Johnson are working together on the development of a stem cell based cure that is already being tested on human patients.
The treatment involves implanting a device under the skin that is filled with insulin-producing cells derived from embryonic stem cells. Reportedly, the capsule emulates the pancreas by manufacturing insulin for diabetic patients who cannot make it on their own.
The container provides insulation from the immune system, which would normally treat the cells as intruders and work feverishly to eradicate them. Should something go wrong, the protective capsule holding the stem cells, which is mostly flat and smaller than a business card, can be quickly removed.
The therapy would eliminate the need for recurrent insulin injections and blood sugar testing. Once the clinical trials are complete and shown to be working, Johnson & Johnson hopes to have the treatment available sometime in the near future.
ViaCyte, who is conducting the human trials, was able to obtain private, exclusive rights to 145 patents and 565 pending patent applications through diabetes research firm Janssen BetaLogics, a Johnson & Johnson company. The terms of the deal have not been released.
“With the focus ViaCyte has in the area of Type 1 diabetes, the combination of Betalogic’s assets and IP can help advance their research and development of medicines that may help this underserved patient population,” Paul Stoffels, Johnson & Johnson’s chief scientific officer and worldwide chairman of pharmaceuticals told Fortune.
Type 1 diabetes patients cannot produce insulin, a hormone that converts sugar into energy, as all the beta cells in the pancreas have been destroyed by the immune system. Normally, after a person eats a meal, the cells make insulin to balance out rising sugar levels in the blood.
In a related Inquisitr report, researchers with MIT and Harvard working on a cure for diabetes found that implanting insulin-producing beta cells into mice restored insulin levels back to normal.
Excess sugar that builds up over the years significantly damages blood vessels and organs. If diabetes is left untreated, health complications like blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, amputations, and even death can occur. Too much insulin can lead to very low blood sugar and also kill a person, especially children.
Roughly 29.1 million Americans have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Of those, 1.25 million have Type 1 and the number is increasing. While people with Type 1 cannot make insulin, Type 2 patients can make insulin; but, the body does not use it efficiently. The number of Type 2 cases is exploding worldwide due to higher obesity rates and inactive lifestyles.
Existing means of treating Type 1 diabetes are difficult to maintain. Patients must adhere to a strict diet, exercise frequently, inject insulin multiple times daily, and test blood sugar levels through finger pricks several times a day.
ViaCyte began human clinical testing about a year ago. About a dozen people with Type 1 diabetes were implanted with a capsule, named VC-01, which released a small dose of insulin-producing cells.
Within 12 weeks of the implant, the capsule attached to nearby blood vessels as intended and new insulin-producing cells have been multiplying. So far, no side effects have been seen. The patients are currently being monitored for insulin production and any other effects.
Another round of testing is planned with a new set of patients who will receive the same cell dose. Sometime late this year, a third round of testing will involve Type 1 patients getting a larger dose of the cells through the device.
“For more than a decade BetaLogics and ViaCyte have been independently working toward a stem cell-derived therapy for diabetes,” ViaCyte president and CEO Paul Laikind said in a press release. “We look forward to delivering effective new treatments for this difficult disease.”
Even if the Johnson & Johnson diabetes cure works in the lab, the device will still need to be approved by regulators. Researchers predict the treatment will be used for Type 2 diabetes as well.
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