New Therapy Might Cure Type 1 Diabetes

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Feb. 4, 2016 -- Patient testing has started on a stem cell treatment that could offer a cure for type 1 diabetes.

If the first-of-a-kind treatment works as well in the patients as it has in animals, it would eliminate the need for regular insulin injections and blood sugar testing, according to the Associated Press.

In this therapy, embryonic stem cells are prompted to turn into insulin-producing cells. These are placed in a small capsule that is implanted under a patient's skin. The capsule protects the cells from the immune system, which would otherwise attack them.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.

A number of approaches are being used in an effort to find a cure for diabetes, but this is the first to be tested in patients, according to ViaCyte biotechnology company. It has teamed with Johnson & Johnson to speed development of the therapy, the AP reported.

If the treatment proves successful in human clinical trials, it could be available in several years for type 1 diabetes patients and eventually could also help insulin-using type 2 diabetes patients.

"This one is potentially the real deal," Dr. Tom Donner, director of the diabetes center at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the AP "It's like making a new pancreas that makes all the hormones" needed to control blood sugar."

If the therapy can lead to normal insulin levels, "it's going to prevent millions of diabetics from getting dangerous complications," said Donner, who is not involved in the research.

About 29.1 million Americans have diabetes, including 1.25 million with type 1 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.