Breaking news: Encapsulated stem cells implanted in to person with type 1 diabetes for first time

Posted on 29 October 2014

The ViaCyte encapsulation device
The ViaCyte encapsulation device

JDRF partner company ViaCyte has announced the first successful implant of its islet encapsulation system into a person with type 1 diabetes. The person was taking part in a University of California-based trial to assess the safety of the system.

Type 1 diabetes arises when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, leaving a person with type 1 unable to manage their own blood glucose levels without external sources of insulin. ViaCyte’s system replaces these insulin-producing cells, and could therefore allow a person with type 1 to produce their own insulin automatically in response to changing glucose levels.

The device, called VC-01, contains thousands of immature cells derived from stem cells in a credit card-sized capsule. Once implanted inside the body, these cells mature into insulin-producing cells and are kept safe from the immune system. This protection sets the treatment apart from traditional transplantation, where the cells are left unprotected and are eventually destroyed once again by the immune system.

Because the system uses stem cells, it also has the potential to treat far more people than transplantation, which is hampered by a lack of organ donors. Indeed, just two weeks ago, Dr Doug Melton, who has also received JDRF funding, announced an efficient method of producing thousands of insulin-producing cells from small numbers of stem cells in the lab.

However, the University of California trial is just the first of many that will be needed to see if the treatment is a success. The primary goal of this first study is to evaluate the safety of the VC-01 device in people who have had type 1 for at least three years, not to make them insulin independent. Subsequent trials will be needed to see how effective the device is over a number of years.

‘I’m really excited that this encapsulation system is being tested in a person with type 1 diabetes,’ said Karen Addington, CEO of JDRF in the UK . ‘Islet encapsulation has huge potential to transform the lives of people with type 1 – which is why we’re proud to support this and many other encapsulation projects around the world.’

Dr. Paul Laikind, President and CEO of ViaCyte, said: ‘Treating the first patient with our stem cell-derived islet replacement product candidate is an exciting next step in our quest to transform the way patients with type 1 diabetes are impacted by the condition.  Moving from a promising idea to a new medicine is a long and challenging journey and we are grateful to JDRF, and all its supporters, for the tremendous and continued support they have provided.’