Consider a cluster of immature beta cells that are packaged in a device. The device is then implanted under the skin of a person with diabetes. Over time, the cells develop into functional islets. The end result: insulin production and blood glucose regulation.
When JDRF announced its support of ViaCyte this month—an important step was taken toward this goal for people with type 1 diabetes (T1D). Viacyte, a biotech company in San Diego, California, is developing a beta cell replacement therapy, currently in preclinical testing, that combines immature cells made from human embryonic stem cells that over time develop into mature pancreatic hormone-producing cells, including insulin-producing cells. In its research program, ViaCyte will package these cells in an encapsulation device to create a physical barrier around these cells and protect them from immune rejection.
Ultimately, the research aims to produce an unlimited source of insulin-producing cells that could serve as replacements for those destroyed in both T1D and insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes.
ViaCyte’s proposed implantable insulin-producing device is called a “Pro-islet Graft.” They envision the implant being performed in a single procedure—or, it could be performed periodically, such as every 6 to 24 months. The implant would be a durable device that can also be removed.
Ongoing research on this combination product in rodents has demonstrated that within two to three months of implantation, the immature cells mature into functional pancreatic hormone-producing cells. The three-year series of preclinical studies being co-funded by JDRF will help ViaCyte prepare the information necessary to apply for regulatory approvals to study the system for safety and efficacy in people with T1D. If successful, the device would provide a new type of therapy for individuals with T1D and those who have other forms of insulin-dependent diabetes.