In Brief
The first test of a type 1 diabetes treatment using stem cells has finally begun.
  • It’s a significant step, partly because the ViaCyte study is only the third in the United States of any treatment based on embryonic stem cells. These cells, once removed from early-stage human embryos, can be grown in a lab dish and retain the ability to differentiate into any of the cells and tissue types in the body.
  • One challenge has been getting stem cells to turn into real, functioning pancreas cells, especially the insulin-secreting beta cells. The second problem is how to evade a patient’s immune system, which will attack any transplanted cell. ViaCyte’s solution is a plastic mesh capsule that is used to screen out the immune system’s killer T cells, which are too big to get through the fine mesh.
  • Though the current human trial is meant mostly to test for safety, Henry suspects that his patients may see some reduction in their need for injected insulin.