Benefit #2 (of 71) from the California Stem Cell Program:
Last year diabetes cost America nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars ($249 billion), but nobody got well. Some died. Despite all the blood-testing and insulin injections, 76,400 American children, women and men passed away from this condition; across the world, more than 3 million.
These are not just empty numbers on the page: everyone was somebody’s family. Like my cousin Leroy, who died of it. And my Uncle Ben, who first endured months of dialysis, that complicated washing of the blood. Think what that means, to have needles stuck into your arms, so the blood can taken out of your body, filtered and put back? It takes hours, and must be done three times a week—when diabetes makes the kidneys cease to function.
Another cousin, Michael, had a toe amputated because of the circulation problems connected with diabetes: which may also lead to blindness.
No family is safe. Patient advocate Bob Klein labored decades to fight diabetes, raising more money for research than probably anyone in the world. In 2002, as chief negotiators for JDRF (formerly Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) he and Larry Soler brought Congress together and raised $1.5 billion in research funding. And, historically, Bob built and led the California stem cell program.
If any family deserves to be spared this disease, it is Bob Klein’s —but just this year his son Jordan was lost, to complications of Type 1 diabetes. Such suffering must be fought. This is why the California stem cell research program exists: to bring cures, not just for diabetes, but for all chronic disease and disability.
First, in a healthy body, a leaf-sized organ (the pancreas) provides the insulin the body needs. If the pancreas is gone, or does not function, that’s diabetes. Now: imagine a credit card, small, one-third the usual size. Split it in half length-wise, punch tiny holes in it, put stem cells inside. The “credit card” is a container, the “Encaptra ®” delivery device. The stem cells are precursors, an in-between stage, not yet what they can be .
The idea is to put the Encaptra under the skin, and then—forget about it. The Encaptra device will (hopefully) fit in with the functions of the body, and act like a natural pancreas. Some of its precursor cells will turn into beta cells, and balance the body’s blood sugar, fighting off diabetes. The body will in turn provide nourishment. (The holes in Encaptra, by the way, are too small for immune cells to enter and kill the precursors.)
If something goes wrong? The device is removable.
Invented by a company called ViaCyte, Inc., Encaptra research and clinical tests were supported by CIRM to the tune of $51 million dollars.
This is not pie-in-the-sky theoretical stuff; it is in clinical trials right now: being tested on volunteers: people who have diabetes, and want to defeat it. That is the goal for all of us: patients, advocates, family, and scientists.
As ViaCyte’s Chief Science Officer Kevin D’Amour told me: “We have already cured thousands of mice; it is time we started curing some people.”
This post originally appeared on HuffPost.
Don C. Reed is Vice President of Public Policy for Americans for Cures, and he is the author of the forthcoming book from World Scientific Publishing, Inc., CALIFORNIA CURES: How California is Challenging Chronic Disease: How We Are Beginning to Win—and Why We Must Do It Again! You can learn more here.