Stem cell trial biggest ‘step toward a cure’ for Type 1 Diabetes in 100 years, researchers say

Groundbreaking study shows stem cells could restore patients’ ability to create insulin

SAN ANTONIO – Alan Lowry from San Antonio was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (T1D), a year after his twin brother, when he was 6 years old.

“It’s an autoimmune disease where my immune system thinks my pancreas is something bad, so it attacks it, and now it doesn’t produce insulin,” Lowry said. “So, I have to inject it through syringes or an insulin pump.”

Living with the day-to-day stress of Type 1 diabetes has caused Lowry a lot of stress.

“I’m one miscalculation away from a really serious emergency. If I have low-blood sugar, cells don’t have the energy to function, organs start turning off, the brain, lungs, heart,” he explained.

High-blood sugar is also dangerous, slowly putting wear and tear and strain on the body.

In 2015, Lowry got an insulin pump and it changed his life. He then researched where the technology came from, and saw that the organization JDRF had a lot to do with advancement in technology and treatment.

He soon became a board member at JDRF, a national nonprofit that funds research for T1D and offers a support system for patients and their families.

Recently, JDRF helped fund a clinical study where Vertex Pharmaceuticals used stem cell therapy in a T1D patient.

They call it the biggest advancement for the disease in 100 years, since the very first insulin injection treatment.

“They took donated stem cells and injected them into someone else’s body and that allowed a Type 1 diabetic to lie with a 91% insulin free regimen,” Lowry said.

The stem cell therapy restored the body’s natural ability to create and regulate insulin and freed the first Type 1 diabetic participant from insulin injections.

When asked what this means for people like him, Lowry smiled with visible joy and relief.

“Gosh there’s so many possibilities! This is the first large step towards an actual practical cure where someone with diabetes could live the same life as someone without diabetes,” he said.

Lowry said this stem cell research is still in the early stages.

“There’s a lot of work to do. More clinical trials, more data to be collected,” he said.

However, there’s also more hope than ever.

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About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.