An experimental new device currently being tested in humans could vastly change the lives of those with Type 1 diabetes, potentially freeing them up from daily insulin injections and monitoring.
Type 1 -- or juvenile diabetes as it used to be called -- is the less common form of the disease that's often diagnosed in childhood. In Type 1, the pancreas no longer produces adequate insulin, so patients must rely on daily injections of the hormone to manage their blood sugar.
The promising new device now being studied is called the Encaptra drug delivery system. It’s a capsule about the width of a credit card that is implanted under the skin near the pancreas. Inside are stem cells that have been programmed to develop into pancreatic islet cells, which are the cells that help regulate blood sugar.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is helping to fund research into the device. Dave Prowten, the president of JDRF Canada, says the cells are designed to mature once inside the body and begin producing insulin on their own.
“The hope is that this will provide people with an alternate source of insulin,” he told CTV’s Canada AM Thursday from Calgary.
Because Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly attacks and kills pancreatic cells, the device is also designed to shield the cells from an autoimmune attack.
So far, clinical testing in mice shows the device performs well, with the stem cells continuously assessing blood glucose and then releasing the appropriate amount of insulin.
Now the device is being tested in humans. The device was implanted into a single Canadian patient about a month ago and now researchers are watching to see how it performs.
Canadian country singer George Canyon, who has had Type 1 diabetes since he was 14, says he’s excited about this new research.
“This little device, to me, is the closest thing to a cure that I’ve ever seen,” he told CTV’s Canada AM, while holding up the 4-centimetre-long device.
Canyon says what’s frustrating and psychologically draining for diabetics like him is that their disease requires constant vigilance.
“We don’t get a day off as a Type 1 diabetic. We’re constantly testing, constantly taking insulin,” he said.
“This device, hopefully, could give me 10 to 12 months at a time of not really having diabetes, being able to go a day without testing, and taking insulin… This is Disney World, right here.”
The goal of the study currently underway is to evaluate the safety of the device and see if the body rejects it. But at the same time, researchers will be monitoring its effectiveness at replacing the pancreas’ lost insulin production.
Researchers hope that the device could remain implanted for at least a year, and possibly longer, before needing to be replaced.
Canyon says he welcomes any breakthrough that makes daily life easier for those with Type 1 diabetes, and he’s hopeful this device could be what he’s been waiting for.
“This is going to change the lives of over 300,000 (Type 1) diabetics in Canada,” he said. “It’s incredibly exciting. It could make such a difference.”