Introduction to Encapsulated Beta Cells
Encapsulated beta cells are implanted devices. The encapsulation coating allows blood sugar in, and insulin out, but does not allow the body's immune system to attack the beta cells. It also allows nutrients in and waste products out. This allows the beta cells to naturally grow and to react to the body's sugar by generating insulin which goes into the body's blood system. Meanwhile, the body's autoimmune attack cannot target these beta cells, and you don't need to take any immunosuppressive drugs (as you would for a normal beta cell transplantation). The cells inside the coating are human beta cells, and different companies get their beta cells from different sources.
Beta-O2 Starts a Phase-I Clinical Trial
Beta-O2 is starting a phase-I clinical trial of their "ßAir Bio-Artificial Pancreas" (encapsulated beta cell) device as a possible cure for type-1 diabetes. The devices itself is similar to other encapsulated beta cell devices (ie. Diabcell by LCT, Encaptra by ViaCyte, etc.) with one important difference: the device is injected with oxygen once a day. This is a manual step performed by the patient. The company claims it will take about 2 minutes, and provides pictures of the device used, which looks like a needle attached to tubing. You can read about the device here: http://beta-o2.com/living-with-sair/
The clinical trial is pretty standard for a phase-I trial: 8 people will use the device for 6 months, and be followed for an additional 6 months. They will test for safety and effectiveness (C-peptides, Insulin usage, and A1c numbers), and hope to finish in March 2016.
The clinical trial is being run by the Uppsala University Hospital. Contact information is: Per-Ola Carlsson, MD, PhD Phone number: +46 18 4714425 Email: Per-Ola.Carlsson@mcb.uu.se. This trial is for adults with long established (5 years or more) type-1 diabetes. One unusual requirement for this trial is that patients must start out using 1 unit of insulin per day per kilo of weight (or less).
The clinical trial is expected to cost about US$ 1 million, with JDRF paying for half.
Clinical Trial Record: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02064309
Other Encapsulated Beta Cells Research Underway
Interest in encapsulated beta cells seems to be cyclical. When my daughter was first diagnosed, about 10 years ago, encapsulated beta cell devices were a strong area of research. But one by one, most of the devices failed. We then went through several years with only one company (LCT) in human trials. Now, however, interest appears to be picking up with a new generation of human trials underway. Here is a quick summary of the encapsulated beta cell devices that I know of:
Beta-O2: Just started a phase-I clinical trial.
Viacyte: Just started a phase-I clinical trial.
LCT: Has been doing phase-II trials for several years, but has not made any forward progress (in terms of better results), in years.
Hospital St. Luc research project: Completed (?) a phase-I trial, but not sure about any progress recently.
AZ-VUB: In phase-I, but I don't know any details.
DRI Biohub: Started clinical trials for infrastructure for such a device, but still using immunosuppression.
Sernova: Started clinical trials for infrastructure for such a device, but still using immunosuppression.
Islet Sheet Project: In animal testing.
Harvard Project: In animal testing (?).
Chicago Diabetes Project: Still using immunosuppression.
Nuvilex: Starting animal testing soon.
In my opinion, these are a lot of different research groups, all focused on the same type of cure. For me, that's good news, because it suggests that many people believe this technology is ready to lead to a cure. And that makes me optimistic. Unfortunately, previous "waves" of encapsulated beta cell devices did not lead to a cure, so that makes me nervous.
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.