CANMORE – Canadian researchers are at the forefront of a new stem cell-based treatment that could one day eliminate type 1 diabetes patients’ reliance on insulin injections and transform dozens of conditions Other health conditions affect millions of people worldwide.
The first study, conducted by a team of researchers at the Universities of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), shows that a small implant infused with stem cells can help the body produce its own insulin.
Dr David Thompson, an endocrinologist at Vancouver General Hospital, told CTV National News: “There is hope for people with type 1 diabetes, which has never existed before.
Fifteen patients with Type 1 diabetes participated in the study, who saw a device the size of a quarter implanted in their abdomen.
Each device contains millions of lab-grown cells derived from a single stem cell line and “trained” to become beta cells, responsible for making insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar. in a person’s blood.
The researchers theorized that the device would help stimulate insulin production in patients with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the pancreas, destroying its ability to produces its vital hormones.
Six months later, the cells not only survived, but also began to produce tiny bits of insulin when needed.
“No one has yet been able to completely stop (taking) insulin, although they were able to reduce the amount they were taking and improve their diabetes control during this trial,” Thompson said.
“They’re all waiting for the moment where someone can really say, ‘I don’t need insulin anymore,’ and that will come very soon.”
The study used C-peptide, a short chain of amino acids released into the bloodstream as a byproduct of insulin formation, to measure the amount of insulin released by transplanted cells. Injected insulin does not produce C-peptide.
According to the results of the study published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the participants’ C-peptide levels increased after eating a meal, showing evidence that they were making insulin naturally.
The patients in the study also spent 13% more time in their target blood sugar range, and some were even able to reduce the amount of insulin they inject thanks to the implant.
Dr Bruce Perkins, director of the diabetes clinical research unit at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, told CTV National News: “We’re still not at the stage where we’re ready for a widespread and universal treatment. Everyone has diabetes.
“But the idea of transplanting cells that can produce insulin into someone with Type 1 diabetes and those insulin-producing cells that can make some insulin and last for a year is a great step forward. ”
The study’s success represents a major scientific breakthrough in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes, the disease that some 300,000 Canadians live – including 8-year-old Cameron Henderson and his mother, Cora.
“I myself lived with Type 1 for 41 years. I’ve heard of advances here and there through my endocrinologist, but I haven’t followed anything primarily religiously because it’s just such a foreign concept to me. ,” Cora Henderson told CTV National News.
“The fact that they can make advances can change our lives.”
For Henderson, life with Type 1 diabetes means constantly thinking about diabetes. They have to carry loads of supplies whenever they leave the house, watch what they’re eating, and check their blood sugar regularly.
Although she’s cautiously optimistic about the study’s findings, Henderson says imagining a world where she and her son can live without daily insulin injections is something she can’t put into words.
She said: “When I found out about it, I was so excited and I had to pull over and I cried in the car because I couldn’t imagine such a different world.
Research, while an interesting development, has its limitations.
With only 15 participants, its range is still quite small, and to ensure accuracy in their findings, the researchers wanted to expand the study to include a placebo.
“This is a very important but small step on that road,” said Perkins, who is living with diabetes.
“I know this won’t be available to make my life completely easy in the next few years, but I know for sure that this is an important step towards getting there.”
In the next iteration, scheduled to begin in 2022, Thompson said the team aims to perform the procedure without immunosuppressants, using a new method to modify cells through a genetic technique that allows the cells to induce their own immunosuppression.
“I hope within the next year, there will actually be people who stop taking insulin for the first time since they were diagnosed with diabetes and not have to take any anti-rejection medication,” he said.