Stem Cell Implants Could Replace Insulin Shots For Type 1 Diabetes
Around 42 million people worldwide have type 1 diabetes, which is caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking cells in the pancreas that make insulin.
A company in San Diego, California, has created a credit-card-sized implant, called PEC-Direct. The implant contains cells obtained from embryonic stem cells that can grow inside the body into the specialized islet cells that get destroyed in type 1 diabetes.
The implant is embedded below the skin and will release insulin when blood sugar levels rise, thus restoring them to normal.
“If it works, we would call it a functional cure,” says Paul Laikind, of Viacyte. “It’s not truly a cure because we wouldn’t address the autoimmune cause of the disease, but we would rather be replacing the missing cells.”
Once implanted, tiny openings on the surface of the outer fabric of the device allow blood vessels to penetrate inside, nourishing the small island of the parent cells. Once these cells have matured – which should take about three months – the hope is that they will be able to monitor sugar levels in the blood, and release insulin as necessary.
If successful, it could free people with type 1 diabetes from having to constantly check their blood sugar levels and inject insulin, although they would need to take immunosuppressive drugs to stop their bodies from destroying the new cells.
“This strategy could really change the way we treat type 1 diabetes in the future,” says Emily Burns of the charity Diabetes UK. Continue reading