In a historic milestone for type 1 diabetes research, a person with type 1 diabetes has received the first ever implant of stem-cell derived islets. JDRF-funded partner Viacyte, a leading US regenerative medicine company, developed the experimental stem cell therapy, called VC-01™. VC-01 consists of immature stem-cell derived human islet cells, encapsulated in an immunoprotective barrier called the Encaptra™ drug delivery system. The barrier protects the islet cells from destruction by the immune system, while allowing insulin produced to pass through into the bloodstream.
The encapsulated cells are implanted under the skin while they are still immature, where they develop into insulin-producing islets. In animal studies, the encapsulated cells were able to sense changing blood glucose levels and release insulin as required. If they perform similarly in humans, the cells could essentially “cure” type 1 diabetes, by replacing the function of the islets destroyed in the autoimmune process.
The study is initially being conducted at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD). The first stage of this trial will follow a small group of people for several months to test the safety of the implant, and to ensure the encapsulatesurvival and function of the encapsulated cells after implantation. After the initial evaluation of this first group of participants at the UCSD site, it is expected that additional sites will be activated to enroll more people in early 2015.
Encapsulated cell replacement therapies can overcome the major obstacles in human islet transplantation in people with T1D, these being a limited supply of donated islets and the need for lifelong immunosuppressive drugs to prevent islet destruction after transplantation.
This study is a major milestone in ultimately restoring the body’s ability to produce insulin in people with type 1 diabetes, freeing them from the burden of daily blood glucose management.