RICHMOND, Va. -- Amber Janss lives day to day relying on her insulin pump to keep her alive. She's one of the millions of Type 1 Diabetics worldwide whose lives could change in the coming years thanks to a promising new study.
"So this is what my butter compartment looks like on my refrigerator — full of insulin," said Janss. "This is the vile of insulin, so this is what my pancreas doesn’t make."
Janss was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at St Mary's Hospital at the age of five.
"That was 36 years ago," Janss said.
Since then, she said her life had involved constant blood sugar monitoring, carb counting and giving insulin.
Janss wasn't alone.
"I mean, it's like having a second job," said Midlothian resident Kate Morales, "You can't just go to bed and forget about it."
Morales said she started giving herself insulin shots after being diagnosed at 13 before getting an insulin pump in 2007.
She described the idea of not having to take insulin as 'freeing.'
That soon may be a reality.
Dr. David Thompson, Endocrinologist at Vancouver General Hospital, is the Site Principal Investigator for the ViaCyte Trial. It's a breakthrough study that shows stem cell-based implants are successful in patients with Type 1 Diabetes.
"What makes this such a landmark study is it's the first time in human history that a stem cell-derived product has been implanted into the human body and function in a normal physiological manner," said Dr. Thompson.
Dr. Thompson said essentially these stem cells, once matured into insulin-producing beta cells, would function like a normal pancreas -- sensing when a person eats and secreting insulin in response to that food.
"And already, the cells we've implanted have been associated with better sugar control, fewer fluctuations in sugar, less hypoglycemia," Dr. Thompson said. "And the ultimate goal is to get enough of these cells in so that people will be able to completely stop insulin and have a normal diet with no restrictions."
The findings have resulted in two published studies including Cell Stem Cell and Cell Reports Medicine.
Dr. Thompson said this was just the beginning of a new era of cell replacement therapy and a path to a cure for type one diabetes.
For Janss, that could be life-changing.
"That would honestly be the most amazing thing ever because I was told when I was diagnosed there would probably be no cure in my lifetime," Janss said.
Dr. Thompson said the next step was to enable these cells to function without the need for anti-rejection drugs that are currently used for all types of transplants. He said they’d been able to modify the cells in a way in which that could potentially be done. That trial starts next year.
He said if results keep going the way they were, he was hopeful to get breakthrough technology approved by the FDA and offer this as an available treatment within the next five years.
EDITORS NOTE: In the interest of transparency, Dr. David Thompson is the father of CBS 6 Reporter Cameron Thompson.