Almost 20 years after a University of Alberta research group made medical history by improving on a treatment for diabetes, the same team is trying to do it again.
Dr. James Shapiro and his research team at the university say they’ve been able to cure diabetes in mice, CTV Alberta reports. The team is using a technique that involves stem cells developing into pancreatic cells that can produce insulin. They believe their research can translate into a functional human cure for diabetes.
“We’ve been working with a company called ViaCyte in San Diego for the last, almost 19 years now, and this company has a cell that is derived from a human embryonic stem cell that makes human insulin in a regulated, perfect way,” Dr. Shapiro said in video research update. “We’ve been able to treat countless thousands of mice with these stem cells and effectively cure mice with diabetes over many years now.”
In the late 1990’s, Dr. Shapiro and his team in Edmonton improved on the technique of transplanting insulin-producing islet cells from the pancreases of donors into type 1 diabetics. Their technique, which relies on using a large number of the islet cells from as many as three different donors, was published to The New England Journal of Medicine in 2000 and became known as the “Edmonton protocol.”
Unfortunately, islet cell implantation has major limitations. Transplant recipients are forced to take immunosuppressant anti-rejection drugs that come with a grocery list of side effects, such as high blood pressure and increased risk of infections. Then there’s the lack of supply — organ donations — and the risk that, in most cases, the diabetic patient will slowly have to start reintegrating insulin over the years.
The stem cell therapy that Dr. Shapiro is proposing has none of these drawbacks. The University of Alberta team foresee a one-time injection — with possible re-ups later on — of insulin-producing cells derived from human stem cells. No need for immunosuppressants or organ donations.
Now, the team is ready to move on to human trials. The only obstacle: money. A small volunteer group, Heading to 2022, wants to raise $22 million by 2022 to help bring Dr. Shapiro’s new treatment to the next phase of trials.
2022 will be the 100th anniversary of the first successful insulin injection. In 1922, Dr. Frederick Banting and his small team, working out of the University of Toronto, saved the life of a 14-year-old-boy named Leonard Thompson, who was dying from diabetes.