Clinical trials on human patients are ongoing, and promising, at the University of Alberta

A piece of technology is being forecast to provide many Type 1 diabetics with freedom from the disease for up to a year at a time. 

Though it won’t be widely available for some time, the device is currently undergoing clinical trials and results are promising according to Dr. James Shapiro, a researcher at the University of Alberta.

The device, called the Encaptra drug delivery system, is a small, round, Band-Aid sized object, slightly wider than a quarter and white in colour. Despite its small size, there are hopes it will revolutionize thousands of lives, according to the website of the diabetes research foundation JDRF.

The Encaptra drug delivery system is implanted just beneath the skin, and is filled with stem cells called pancreatic progenitor cells, or PEC-01 cells, which work to combat Type 1 diabetes. 

Dr. James Shapiro, director of the Canada research chair at the University of Alberta in transplant surgery and regenerative medicine (CRC), is very excited about this new scientific development.

“I’ve been working with Viacyte, the stem cell company, for about 12 years and we’ve been working together in partnership, doing experiments together, following their discoveries and advances. Its been a very much a partnership asset so I’m really excited to see the stem cell trials move forward in patients.”

The PEC-01 cells in the Encaptra will be protected from a patient’s immune system by the plastic casing. The cells mature over time and develop into insulin producing cells.

The hope is that users of the Encaptra drug delivery system will be able to do away with painful and tiresome insulin injections for up to a year at a time, as the self-contained device monitors and releases insulin on its own. Photo courtesy of Pixabay licensed under CC1.0 UniversalThe encapsulation device has little pore like holes which allow insulin to be released when the patient’s glucose levels need it, but does not let immune cells through, as stated on the JDRF website.

The U of A is the only Canadian site working on the Encaptra, but they’ve been working closely with the American creators, Viacyte, for about 12 years on the stem cell research.

The PEC-01 cells are the most important part of the Encaptra drug delivery system, and Dr. Shapiro is extremely optimistic about what their creation in the lab could mean for the future.

“Even today you could get these cells to grow up in an incubator and you could treat everybody in the world with diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2.”

So far his past trials have eliminated both types of diabetes in over 2000 mice. Dr. Shapiro is still continuing trials on mice, as well as initial tests on human subjects.

The ultimate goal is to have this device as safe for use on humans as it is on mice and then to work towards defeating the purpose of insulin injections.

The Encaptra system is aimed at giving patients freedom from the disease, which means that for up to 12 months at a time they won’t need to test their blood sugar, count carbohydrates, or inject themselves with insulin, as stated on the developer’s website.

This device is still in the clinical trial stage and is a few years away from being available to the public.

Clinical trials are being held in Edmonton at the University of Alberta and the first trial device was implanted in a Canadian around August of 2014, as stated by Viacyte on their website.

The clinical “Phase 1/2” trial is being called STEP ONE which stands for safety, tolerability, and efficacy of VC-01 combination product in Type 1 diabetes. The main goal of this phase is to determine safety and effectiveness factors in human patients.

So far results have been encouraging, and many diabetics are excited about what the future holds, according to the JDRF website.

George Canyon was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 14, and is currently the spokes-person for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He has high hopes that this new drug delivery system can give people back a sense of freedom that the condition has taken away from them. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Animas Corporation, licensed under CC2.0 Attribution“Encapsulation is going to be an incredible thing for me. It’s just going to give me back so many of those freedoms, and really what it was like to not have Type 1 diabetes,” George Canyon, Canadian country music singer and the national spokes-person for the JDRF says.

“We might be five years away from this device being in the public, this device being in me so that I actually can have a break for lack of better words, and I also feel that it’s a precursor to what will become a cure in my opinion,” Canyon says in a press release from the JDRF.

Canyon has had Type 1 diabetes since he was 14, and having held the device, he says it gives him great hope for the future.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Pixabay, licensed under CC1.0 Universal

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The editors responsible for this article are Jodi Brak and Tara Rathgeber, jbrak@cjournal.ca, trathgeber@cjournal.ca