In the stem cell R&D unit, Jacob Sten Petersen, and his team are taking a different approach in the quest to defeat type 1 diabetes. Working with stem cells, they are trying to find a replacement cure for the lost insulin producing beta cells, which are destroyed during the development of type 1 diabetes.
Within the last few years, the unit has made significant progress - but has also encountered challenges.
“Right now, we have reached the point where we are able to produce cells; cells that can produce insulin and cells that can lower blood sugar in mice,” Jacob explains, adding that the challenge now is to replicate this effect in the human body.
“Our biggest challenge right now is to find a device that can protect these new cells from being killed by the immune system, which is what causes an individual to get type 1 diabetes in the first place. This might sound simple, but it really isn’t.”
In fact, Jacob explains, it has proven to be a bigger challenge than the team first thought. They are now working with several external expert collaborators, and Jacob remains optimistic.
“We are aiming to start clinical testing in humans within a couple of years,” he said. “And I am positive that we will reach our goal to find a cure in the end. But it will take us time, and there will be plenty of ups and downs before we get there.”
Whilst Stephen Gough is excited and optimistic about the work Novo
Nordisk is spearheading, he remains acutely aware of the challenges
that lie ahead.
“When we are talking about prevention and or delay of type 1 diabetes, one of our biggest challenges is that we do not have an effective screening programme,” he says. “Basically, we need to understand and identify those who are at the highest risk of developing type 1 diabetes, in order to be able to understand how our research can make a difference. Until we have developed such a programme, the task remains a very difficult one.”
Although scientists are working with hypotheses about different causative factors, we still do not completely understand what is causing a rise in the number of people developing type 1 diabetes.
However, he is optimistic that Novo Nordisk will be able to crack the nut eventually.
“Even though an actual treatment is still a number of years away, we are making a lot of progress, and see great promise in our ongoing clinical trials. I’ve no doubt we’ll get there in the end.”