JDRFNewsResearch progress: beta cell replacements in type 1 diabetes aim to end daily injections

Research progress: beta cell replacements in type 1 diabetes aim to end daily injections

Posted on 05 January 2021

A type 1 diabetes researcher in a lab holds the encapsulation device in his hands
Procyon Technologies co-founder Dr Klearchos Papas with the encapsulation device being licensed by Novo Nordisk

A treatment that could replace the lost insulin-producing cells in people with type 1 diabetes has moved another step closer to reality.

Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk and US start-up Procyon Technologies have agreed to work together on developing the treatment and speeding up its path to clinical trials.

Underpinned by JDRF-funded research at the University of Arizona, the treatment is an implantable device that contains insulin-producing cells grown from stem cells.

By implanting the cells in a protective container, the treatment would keep them safe from the immune attack that causes type 1 diabetes – unlike a traditional organ transplant.

Replacing insulin injections

This approach, also known as encapsulation, is being developed by several research teams across the world.

In 2014, JDRF supported the world’s first clinical trial of an encapsulation device, in the United States.

The technology could one day offer a way for people with type 1 to go without insulin injections or infusions for months or years at a time.

However, the science is challenging. It requires expertise in growing insulin-producing cells and in creating the special containers that protect the cells from the immune system.

By working together, the two companies can pool their knowledge in these two areas.

Novo Nordisk has invested in stem cell technology since 2008, while Procyon Technologies co-founder Dr Klearchos Papas has led JDRF-funded research into encapsulation devices for almost a decade.

Curing type 1 diabetes

Jacob Sten Petersen, Corporate Vice President and Head of Stem Cell Research and Development for Novo Nordisk, said: “If we are able to offer a treatment that safely and effectively replaces the insulin-producing cells that people with type 1 diabetes have lost, we could essentially offer them a functional cure.”

Conor McKeever, Research Communications Manager at JDRF, said: “It is great to see these two companies working together on developing this technology for people with type 1, and I’m proud that Dr Papas’s JDRF research is underpinning it.

“Replacing the lost beta cells is a key part of our strategy to find cures for type 1 diabetes.”