2011 Annual Report: Toward a stem cell therapy for #diabetes

We are rolling out our 2011 Annual Report stories throughout March. Many of these stories feature multimedia material such as a video that we are releasing today alongside a story about diabetes research. The full report will be posted online and available for download later this month.

Todd Dubnicoff is CIRM’s videographer and video editor.

One thing I’ve learned producing videos at CIRM is that you don’t truly know a disease until you hear first-hand from the people who live with it. Take, for example, the new diabetes video that we’re rolling today out along with the 2011 Annual Report story on the same subject.

For the video, my colleague Amy Adams and I filmed interviews with Chris Stiehl and Sarah Young, both living with type 1 diabetes, as well as Kevin D’Amour, the chief scientific officer at Viacyte, Inc., which has a $20 million CIRM Disease Team award to bring an embryonic stem cell-based diabetes therapy to clinical trials. JDRF recently co-funded the project. Our annual report story has more details about Viacyte’s therapeutic strategy.

Before the interviews I brushed up on my knowledge of diabetes. I felt I had a solid grasp of the metabolic basis of the disease from my biology classes in school. But it wasn’t until I pressed the start button on my video camera and watched Chris and Sarah tell their stories that I got a glimpse of what diabetes was all about: it’s about having the courage and positive outlook to live with a daily and life-long burden. Chris who was diagnosed at the age of 10 and is now 62 described diabetes this way:

It’s a 24-hour a day job, 7 days a week you never get a day off. I would give anything for a day off. Just to not have to think about it. Besides all the things you have to do for your work and your family and everything, you have to be constantly thinking: “What’s my blood sugar? What have I eaten? Have I exercised too much or too little? How much insulin should I take based on the exercise I just did? Gee by the way is my insulin pump running out of insulin? How’s the battery in the pump? How’s the battery in the blood tester?” There’s a whole entourage of things to worry about and it occupies your mind a lot.

Sarah, who was also diagnosed at 10 and is now just 14 spoke about the meal-by-meal vigilance of insulin dosing that she must think through to keep her blood sugar levels safely in check:

Every time I eat a meal or a snack or if someone [at school] brings something in for their birthday, I have to sit down and think, “what do I want to eat?” And I have to really be sure that I’m right because if I don’t end up eating everything I dosed myself for, I’ll have a low blood sugar which is bad. And if I want to eat more I’ll have to dose again which is just complicated and annoying. So it was really a pretty big change for me after I got diagnosed to have to make a commitment about the amount of food I was going to eat and stick to that and not to be able to change based on, “oh, I feel full now” or “you know, I think I’ll have another cookie.”

While rewatching those interviews to create the video, I felt like I had gotten to know Chris and Sarah and I became impressed with how they and their families have bravely confronted diabetes. Personally, it makes the prospect of Viacyte’s stem cell-based therapy for diabetes even more exciting. Kevin D’Amour echoed that thought during his interview:

I’ve been here [at Viacyte] nine years and in the early days we didn’t have much. But now to see the program evolve and blossom to the point where it represents a clinical reality for helping patients has been very motivating and very satisfying.

This is the third annual report story we’ve posted. Here are the others:

The full report will be available for download later this month.


4 thoughts on “2011 Annual Report: Toward a stem cell therapy for #diabetes

  1. I was honored and humbled to be asked by CIRM to share this story with the stem cell community worldwide. There are millions of us with type 1 diabetes, and many millions more with type 2, who may benefit from the work that CIRM is doing.

    It is always heartwarming to me to see the scientists realize that these diseases are not just intellectual problems; there are very real people like Sarah and me who are struggling with the issues every day.

    CIRM is doing so much good work. Please let them know how important that work is to you.

    -Chris Stiehl

  2. Chris Stiehl has been a trooper, a crusader and an inspiration for all diabetics. I am so proud to know him and his selfless, lovely wife Lorraine. They will never give up until a cure is found. Thanks to the folks at CIRM for all their hard work and commitment to this project. The lives that will be permanently changed by your efforts are infinite. I think that will officially make you a “SUPER HERO” or qualifies you for sainthood. Please keep up the hard work until the job is done. So many of us are counting on you!
    Connie Deneweth

  3. Is this true?

    Doctor looks to China for spinal injury ‘cure’ – Stem cells are injected into patients’ damaged spines

    “I started the clinical trials in 2005 here in Hong Kong … mainly because of a promise that I made to a young woman. Her name is Sang Lan.” Sang crushed her spine during a routine warm-up exercise at the Goodwill Games in New York in 1998. She met Young as she underwent treatment and rehabilitation in the United States over the next 12 months.

    “Her parents came to me and asked whether or not there would ever be a cure for her, and I said we’re working very hard on it,” recalled Young, who was by then one of the leading US experts on spinal cord injuries.

    “When she went back to China after doing her rehabilitation in New York she cried and asked how would therapies go from the United States to China. “In those days China was still relatively poor and backward so she didn’t think that any therapy would be coming from China. So I started in 1999 to talk to all the spinal cord doctors in China.”

    He said the result was China Spinal Cord Injury Net, the world’s largest clinical trial network for spinal cord therapies. Established in Hong Kong in 2005, it is about to expand into Europe, India and the United States.

    “We’re testing umbilical cord blood-cell transplants into the spinal cord combined with lithium treatments,” said Young, professor in neuroscience at Rutgers University, New Jersey. At about 20 centres in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, stem cells are injected into patients’ damaged spines to help regenerate nerves, while lithium is used to promote the growth of the nerve fibres.

    Chinese government spending on biomedical research is at least on a par with the United States, and the legal framework governing its clinical standards is second to none, the doctor said.

    “It’s turned 180 degrees from the time Sang Lan was asking how will therapies get to China. Now Americans want to go to China,” Young said. “This is not what I would have said to Sang Lan back in 1998, but it is possible that the cure for spinal cord injury will actually come from China.”

    Young does not use the word “cure” lightly. “Before I met (Reeve) I was very reluctant to use the word cure… It’s very scary to use because when you use the word cure you’re committing yourself to a goal that most scientists feel uncomfortable with,” he said.


  4. I've been following Viacyte's work since inception. Been suffering for nearly four decades and though I am still in one piece my quality of life is horrible and I've nearly died a few times while sleeping. Of all the research being done (and I am aware of just about every form of research being pursued) I believe this is the most realistic for long term diabetics despite it will not address the underlying disease. I can't wait till they start human trials. I dream of relief and believe the chances are pretty good this will be it!

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