Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that affects the daily lives of approximately 300,000 Canadians. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. 

Injecting insulin has been extensively used to treat type 1 diabetes for almost a century. However, daily insulin injections do not adequately maintain blood sugar at normal levels, leading to damage throughout the body. The positive news is that an innovative stem cell therapy may be the best answer for future treatment – and some of the most advanced research for this is taking place in Western Canada. Twenty years ago, the Edmonton Protocol demonstrated that replacement pancreatic tissue could temporarily alleviate the need for daily insulin injections, and it kickstarted research that is now in clinical trials. SCN has supported this work along the way.

Today, Drs. Timothy Kieffer, Megan Levings, Francis Lynn, Bruce Verchere in British Columbia and James Shapiro and Greg Korbutt in Alberta, continue to lead the way. Since 2019, SCN has approved seven projects – including two clinical trials – that are advancing potential treatments to tackle this disease.

In Alberta, James Shapiro and his team are currently working on a project funded by SCN in 2020 to define pre-clinical, scale up and GMP manufacturing advances for autologous iPSC-derived ‘islets’ that will accelerate the path to early first-in-human pilot clinical testing and potentially treat all forms of diabetes without the need for the chronic anti-rejection therapies necessitated by current approaches. The ultimate goal is for the transplanted islets to provide a therapeutic supply of insulin for patients, thereby eliminating the need for and expense of regular insulin injections or an islet cell transplant.

Concurrently, Drs. Timothy Kieffer, Megan Levings, Francis Lynn, and Bruce Verchere at the University of British Columbia are also working on SCN-funded projects to improve both the quality of the cells for transplant and refine a method of creating replacement islet tissues using 3D printing technologies innovated by project partner Aspect Biosystems.

Such advances could not only transform the quality of life for the thousands of Canadians living with diabetes but also greatly reduce the tremendous economic and health burden that diabetes places on Canada today.

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