Diabetics make insulin for first time with stem cell-derived therapy

At the recent Cell and Gene Meeting on the Mesa in Carlsbad, CA, companies discussed advances in stem cell therapies. ViaCyte described two versions of an experimental diabetes treatment that features insulin-producing cells grown from embryonic stem cells. The cells are stored in a device that is implanted underneath the patient's skin.

At the recent Cell and Gene Meeting on the Mesa in Carlsbad, CA, companies discussed advances in stem cell therapies. ViaCyte described two versions of an experimental diabetes treatment that features insulin-producing cells grown from embryonic stem cells. The cells are stored in a device that is implanted underneath the patient's skin. One treatment, called PEC-Direct, has shown intermittent signs of generating therapeutic levels of insulin—seen indirectly through the presence of a byproduct of insulin production—but production is not yet sufficiently reliable to substitute for injected insulin, said Paul Laikind, ViaCyte's CEO. The company is now working to improve reliability. A second product, called PEC-Encap, protects cells from direct contact, eliminating the need for immune-suppressing drugs. To reduce scar tissue build-up near the implant, ViaCyte is working with W. L. Gore & Associates, makers of Gore-Tex. Meanwhile, Athersys discussed its multi-purpose cell product called MultiStem, which is in Phase III testing for stroke. The product is also in testing for heart attacks, and is being considered for brain trauma. MultiStem is a proprietary cell that can be given "off the shelf" to different patients and is obtained from adult bone marrow. Gil Van Bokkelen, Athersys chairman and CEO, said the product does not generate an immune reaction. The cells release proteins and other substances that reduce inflammation and promote healing, according to Van Bokkelen. He added that Athersys is planning a Phase II trial of MultiStem in trauma patients, with a goal of temporarily reducing inflammation.