Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease with no cure and challenging treatment regimes. The disease is characterized by self-reactive immune cells that attack and destroy cells in the pancreas that produce insulin and are essential for regulating metabolism, called beta cells.
Since the advent of stem cell technology, scientists have dreamed of curing Type 1 Diabetes by replacing the beta cells lost to disease with lab grown, stem cell-derived beta cells. However, it wasn’t until recent work from Ronald Evans’ lab at the Salk Institute that this dream started to become a reality. First, in 2016, Evans and colleagues identified a critical genetic switch needed to activate stem cell-derived beta cells. Second, in the article we discuss today, they figured out how to produce not just the beta cells from stem cells, but their entire cellular compartment, called the pancreatic islet. They call these synthetic islets HILOs (human islet-like organoids). Even more importantly, they devised a way to shield the HILOs from the immune system. This molecular shield, which they learned about from studying how pancreatic cancer cells evade the immune system, is the key to the long term survival of the HILOs despite this chronic autoimmune response.
In this conversation, host Lauren Richardson and Dr. Evans cover these key breakthroughs, the next steps for moving this proof-of-concept research into the clinic, and how these HILOs might represent a curative treatment for this devastating and life-long condition.