CANMORE – Canadian researchers are at the forefront of an innovative new stem cell treatment that could one day eliminate the dependence of type 1 diabetes patients on insulin injections and transform dozens of other health problems affecting millions of people around the world.
The first such study, led by a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), shows that a tiny implant infused with stem cells can help the body make blood on its own. insulin.
“There is hope for people with type 1 diabetes, which has never existed before,” Dr. David Thompson, endocrinologist at Vancouver General Hospital, told CTV National News.
Fifteen patients living with type 1 diabetes participated in the study, which saw a device the size of a quarter implanted in their abdomen.
Each device contained millions of lab-grown cells that came from a single stem cell line and were “coached” to become beta cells, responsible for making insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar. one person.
Researchers hypothesized 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 make the hormone. critical.
Six months later, the cells had not only survived, they had started producing tiny pieces of insulin when needed.
“No one has yet been able to completely stop (taking) insulin, although they were able to reduce the amount they take and improve their diabetes control during this trial,” Thompson said.
“They’re all waiting for the moment when someone can actually say, ‘I don’t need insulin anymore,’ and that’s happening very soon.”
The study used C peptide, a short chain of amino acids that is released into the blood as a byproduct of insulin formation, to measure the amount of insulin released by implanted cells. Insulin injected does not generate C peptide.
According to the results, published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, participants’ C-peptide levels increased after eating a meal, showing evidence that they created insulin naturally.
The patients in the study also spent 13% more time in the target blood sugar range and some were even able to reduce the amount of insulin injected thanks to the implant.
“We are not yet at the stage where this is ready for general treatment and for all people with diabetes,” Dr. Bruce Perkins, director of the Diabetes Clinical Research Unit at the University of Montreal, told CTV National News. Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.
“But this idea of implanting cells that can make insulin into a human with type 1 diabetes, and those insulin-producing cells that can make insulin and survive for a year is a step. forward fantastic. “
The success of the study represents a major scientific breakthrough in the treatment of type 1 diabetes, a disease with which approximately 300,000 Canadians live, including eight-year-old Cameron Henderson and her mother, Cora.
“I myself have lived with type 1 for 41 years. I’ve heard of progress here and there from my endocrinologist, but I haven’t followed anything religiously, mainly because it’s such an alien concept to me, ”Cora Henderson told CTV National News.
“The fact that they might have breakthroughs that could change our lives.”
For the Hendersons, living with type 1 diabetes means constantly thinking about diabetes. They have to bring a myriad of supplies with them every time they leave the house, think about what they eat, and check their blood sugar levels regularly.
While she’s cautiously optimistic about the study’s findings, Henderson says imagining a world where she and her son could live without daily insulin injections is something she can’t express in words.
“When I found out about this I was so excited I had to stop my car and cried in my car, because I couldn’t imagine a world that would be so different,” she said. declared.
Studying, while an exciting development, has its limits.
With just 15 participants, its scope remains quite small, and in order to ensure the accuracy of their results, the researchers want to expand the study to include placebos.
“It’s a very important but small step on this road,” said Perkins, who himself lives with diabetes.
“I know this won’t be available to make my life easier for the next couple of years, but I know for sure that this is such a critical step in getting there.”
In its next iteration, which is expected to begin in 2022, Thompson says the team aims to perform the procedure without immunosuppressive drugs, using a new method of modifying cells through a genetic technique that will allow cells to produce their own immunosuppression.
“I hope that by next year someone will stop taking insulin for the first time since being diagnosed with diabetes and not have to take anti-rejection drugs.” , did he declare.