Stem-cell therapy for Type 1 Diabetes

King’s College Hospital has been selected as a site to conduct a promising new research study using stem-cell therapy to treat Type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Scientist in lab with blood sample - stock imageType 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the islets of the pancreas. These cells control blood glucose levels. People living with type 1 diabetes self-manage their condition by regularly checking their blood glucose levels and injecting insulin. 

Hypoglycaemia or low blood glucose levels can happen if there is difficulty balancing insulin, diet and exercise. Hypoglycaemia remains a critical limiting factor in glycaemic management, and severe hypoglycaemia can cause loss of consciousness, coma and seizures.

Over time, people living with T1D can develop impaired awareness of hypoglycaemia, meaning they can no longer perceive the early warning signs of a hypoglycaemic event, which can be dangerous and result in life-threatening events.  

Structured education on insulin therapy and technological advances in glucose monitoring and insulin delivery can significantly improve glucose levels and quality of life. However, some people living with T1D can find achieving and maintaining optimal glucose levels difficult despite these treatments.

In addition to diabetes education and technology, islet transplantation is another effective treatment for severe hypoglycaemia. Access to transplantation is limited by the availability of organ donations. 

The novel treatment called VX-880 by Vertex Pharmaceuticals hopes to help those with T1D produce their insulin again. The treatment involves transplanting lab-grown insulin-producing beta cells into people with T1D. By replacing the destroyed beta cells, the VX-880 treatment allows the body to produce its insulin again, potentially reducing the need to inject insulin.  

At King’s College Hospital, the study will be led by Dr Sufyan Hussain, Clinician Scientist in translational aspects of cell therapy in type 1 diabetes, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, and Dr Yee Cheah, Diabetes Clinical Lead for Islet Transplantation and Director of the Islet Isolation Facility, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The study will be conducted within the clinical and research departments at the Trust.   

Dr Sufyan Hussain said:

Thus far, our efforts in diabetes have largely focused on self-management strategies that are centred around replacing insulin via multiple-daily injections or insulin pumps, rather than curative approaches.
Given the limited availability of donor-derived islet cells, transplantation is reserved for a small proportion of people with type 1 diabetes and may not lead to a long-term cure. The VX-880 trial is a landmark step towards using renewable approaches to replace the insulin-producing cells that are lost in type 1 diabetes. We are very pleased to be part of this journey. We hope that it will pave the way for future curative approaches that can remove the burden of intensive treatment and improve outcomes for those living with type 1 diabetes.  

Dr Yee Cheah, Diabetes Clinical Lead for Islet Transplantation and Director of the Islet Isolation Facility, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said:

King’s Diabetes Centre has been at the forefront of type 1 diabetes care and research for many years, with particular interests in structured education, technology and islet transplantation to treat severe hypoglycaemia. KCH also has one of two islet isolation laboratories in England, providing islets for all the transplantation centres in the UK. We are delighted to have been selected to participate in the VX-880 trial, which we hope may help more people experiencing severe hypoglycaemia, ease the burden for those living with type 1 diabetes and widen access to islet transplantation in the future.   

Jill Lockett, Managing Director, King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC)' said:

King’s Health Partners is delighted to be working in collaboration with Vertex. It is a testimony to the hard work our clinical scientists that we are able to contribute our knowledge and skills to support ground breaking research and improve understanding of disease. The VX-880 trial has the potential to transform our understanding and treatment of this complex disease for our patients and their families, locally and globally.

The KHP Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Obesity teams works to improve health and wellbeing for people living with diabetes, obesity and endocrine disorders across London, south east England and beyond. Visit its webpages here