|The ViaCyte device -- photo San Diego U-T|
“In October, a San Diego man had two pouches of lab-grown pancreas cells, derived from human embryonic stem cells, inserted into his body through incisions in his back. Two other patients have since received the stand-in pancreas, engineered by a small San Diego company called ViaCyte.
“It’s a significant step, partly because the ViaCyte study is only the third in the United States of any treatment based on embryonic stem cells.”
“'When I first came to ViaCyte 12 years ago, cell replacement through stem cells was so obvious. We all said, ‘Oh, that’s the low-hanging fruit,’” says Kevin D’Amour, the company’s chief scientific officer. 'But it turned out to be a coconut, not an apple.'”
(Robert Henry at UC San Diego is conducting the trial on behalf of ViaCyte.)
“Douglas Melton, a biologist at Harvard University who has two children with type 1 diabetes, worries that the ViaCyte system may not work. He thinks deposits of fibrotic, scarlike tissue will glom onto the capsules, starving the cells inside of oxygen and blocking their ability to sense sugar and release insulin. Melton also thinks it might take immature cells up to three months to become fully functional. And many won’t become beta cells, winding up as other types of pancreatic cells instead.
|Doug Melton -- Harvard photo|
The piece in the MIT Technology Review is a plus for the California stem cell agency, which is seeking to raise its profile. The agency's president, Randy Mills, is making a push to draw interest from non-California enterprises that might find funding from California attractive even with restrictions that it be used in the Golden State.