Stem Cell Implants Could Cure Diabetes

A California company has created a credit-card-sized implant that replenishes islet cells destroyed by type 1 diabetes.

PEC-Direct Implant / Image: ViaCyte
PEC-Direct Implant / Image: ViaCyte

Roughly 42 million people worldwide have type 1 diabetes, which is caused when the immune system mistakenly attacks pancreas cells that make insulin. Researchers have been working to use stem cells to replace these cells for over 15 years. A recent New Scientist article suggests San Diego-based ViaCyte may have finally cracked the code with their PEC-Direct, an implant the size of a credit card that contains cells derived from stem cells that mature into the specialized islet cells that diabetes destroys.

The company has implanted the device in two people with type 1 diabetes and a third patient is scheduled to receive it soon. The outer fabric of the PEC-Direct device contains pores that are penetrated by blood vessels that nourish the islet progenitor cells inside. The cells mature in about three months, and the hope is that they will become able to monitor sugar levels in the blood and release insulin as needed.

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