Insulin overdose

San Diego based company, ViaCyte, have announced that its pioneering islet cell replacement therapy has been successfully implanted into the first patient with type 1 diabetes.

The news marks an exciting moment for people with type 1 diabetes as the treatment has the potential to prevent the intense day to day management that type 1 diabetes currently demands.

VC-01 encapsulated islet cells

VC-01 is the name that is currently given for the treatment which involves implanting, stem cells within a protective casing, under the skin of people with type 1 diabetes. The stem cells, pancreatic endoderm cells (PEC-01), are derived from an inexhaustible supply of human embryo cells. When implanted into the body, these stem cells mature into human islet cells capable of blood glucose regulating hormones, notably including insulin.

Whilst the technology for implanting insulin producing islet cells has been around for decades, previous attempts have been held back by a strong barrier, the immune system. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system is incorrectly programmed to kill off insulin producing cells and therefore success in transplantation has been, at best, limited.

The VC-01 technology is different, however, thanks to its Encaptra drug delivery system. Encaptra is a state of the art casing which allows the cells within the casing to be fed with the nutrients they need for living, such as glucose and oxygen, whilst preventing the aggressive immune cells from entering the casing and attacking the islet cells.

ViaCyte human trials

ViaCyte has been recruiting patients with type 1 diabetes for phase 1/2 clinical trials. The primary aim of this phase of the trials is to establish whether VC-01 is safe and well tolerated. This is a requirement that any new technology need to go through. 40 patients with type 1 diabetes will test the VC-01 technology in trials run by the University of California.

In addition to testing for safety, the trial will include measurement of C-peptide levels, which will indicate how successful the implanted islet cells are at producing insulin. This phase of trials is expected to run into 2016. JDRF, the world’s largest type 1 diabetes charity, have been supporting the development of the VC-01 treatment from an early stage.

Dr Paul Laikind, CEO of ViaCyte, stated: “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.”