Johnson & Johnson developing stem cell cure for Type 1 diabetes

An insulin injection.
(Image credit: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)

Johnson & Johnson and biotech company ViaCyte are exploring a possible cure for Type 1 diabetes with encouraging results, The Associated Press reports. The stem cell treatment involves turning embryotic stem cells into insulin-producing cells in a lab, and then putting them in a small capsule to implant under a patient's skin.

Patients with Type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin. In a healthy person, insulin is made by the body in response to rising blood sugar levels after a meal. High levels of sugar in the bloodstream can lead to the damage of blood vessels, organs, and can even kill patients. Type 1 diabetes patients need to take frequent insulin injections as a result — something the insulin-implant produced by ViaCyte and Johnson & Johnson would render unnecessary.

Testing began on patients a year ago; they received a small dose of the insulin-producing cells in their implants and are to be closely monitored for two years. The companies reported that after 12 weeks, the patient's devices were working as expected with no side effects observed. Another several rounds of patient testing are expected before regulators will approve the device.

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About 29.1 million Americans have diabetes, which includes 1.25 million with Type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes. Type 2 diabetics — whose bodies make insulin but use it ineffectively — are on the rise, as are Type 1 diabetics. Current treatment includes a strict diet, exercise, and multiple daily insulin injections and finger-prick blood tests.

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