Sunday, January 21, 2018

Diabecell Research Closes Out (With Comments on Encapsulation In General)

Diabecell is an encapsulated pig beta cell treatment aimed at curing type-1 diabetes.  This research started in the 1990s, and was part of a group of encapsulated stem cell cures which were developed at the same time by different companies/research groups.  Most of the others ended in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but LCT continued and is still operating today.  I've blogged many times on this research:

The last two running studies on Diabecell were marked as "completed" in October 2017.  The most recent clinical trial started in 2011, and published some results in 2016, but they were not strong.  Since it has been two years since their last results, and they have not started a new trial in that time, and also because the results of their trials have been lack-luster for years before that, I'm going to drop them from active coverage here.


This should serve as a cautionary tale for all encapsulated beta cell cure research.  There were at least 4 companies trying to cure type-1 diabetes this way in the 1990s, and it looks like all of those were unsuccessful.  There was another crop of these in the 2000s, and most of those have been unsuccessful as well.  (Although Viacyte, founded in 1999 as Novocell, is still in active development and may yet cure type-1 diabetes.)  More recently, in the 2010s there has been another batch of start ups in this area (Dr. Melton's Semma Therapeutics, Beta-O2 Technologies, etc.), and also an even larger batch of new academic research (such as recently reported at Cornell, UCSF, etc.)

I'm positive about all this research. I'm positive about all research aimed at curing type-1 diabetes. I hope it all works. I hope any of it works (because it only takes one cure). However, I do think it is important not to get to overly excited about encapsulated beta cell research (even as it sounds straight forward), because it's obviously more complex than it sounds.

Especially, it is clear to me that the hard part is the encapsulation part, not the beta cell part.  The pig beta cells used by LCT generate the insulin that people with type-1 diabetes injected for decades (from the 1920s to the 1970s).  Those cells work just fine, so LCT's problems are encapsulation.  Other companies have used human beta cells from cadavers.  Those cells worked just fine for their previous owners, which reinforces my belief that the breakthrough that makes encapsulated beta cells successful is going to be on the encapsulation side, not the beta cell sourcing side.

Recent Clinical Trial Records:

Academic encapsulation research in the news:

Joshua Levy
publicjoshualevy at gmail dot com
All the views expressed here are those of Joshua Levy, and nothing here is official JDRF or JDCA news, views, policies or opinions. My daughter has type-1 diabetes and participates in clinical trials, which might be discussed here. My blog contains a more complete non-conflict of interest statement. Thanks to everyone who helps with the blog.

1 comment:

Oscar said...

A friend of mine who is an islet encapsulation researcher excitedly told me in 2003 that the only remaining problem was getting a sufficient oxygen supply for the cells in the capsules, and now, 15 years later, he is still working on solving that problem. It seems astonishing that such a small, technical problem in bio-engineering should block such an important advance for so long, but it could be because countries don't invest enough in trying to cure, and because there is no overall effort to bring all researchers together to resolve the remaining issues.

When the country really cared about a problem, like developing the atomic bomb, and there was a stubborn technical difficulty no one could solve, like pushing all the radioactive elements together rapidly to create a critical mass, explosives engineers were imported from Britain to solve the problem and the bomb was soon ready. No one is doing that today with the countless promising research leads that pop up all the time, ensuring that they all come together to build up a workable solution. Senator Lieberman once proposed a $150 billion program to move medical scientific research from 'bench to bedside,' and this seems to be what we need, but the vast majority of voters, who are not chronically ill and awaiting cures, will never support such a program.