Twenty years after Jacob Sten Petersen embarked upon a career in diabetes research, his own daughter Vita was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Jacob reflects on his very personal motivation to achieve a cure for type 1 diabetes and on the progress of Novo Nordisk’s stem cell research.
Vita’s diagnosis carried a heavy toll for Jacob and his family as they came to terms with it emotionally and recalibrated their daily lives to accommodate the management of her disease. But as the dust settled and the family adjusted to their new reality, Jacob’s outlook evolved from one of sadness to one of positivity.
“I came to realise that helping Vita to live with diabetes was a daily learning experience that was teaching me about the real needs of people living with the disease,” reflects Jacob. “My work had always been important, but it took on a whole new meaning. Vita’s diagnosis put things in perspective and I became thankful for my skills and the fact that when I go to work, I’m able to strive towards a better future for my daughter and for people just like her.”
The future that Jacob has in mind includes a cure for type 1 diabetes – something that he and his colleagues have been pursuing using stem cell therapy since 1998. Two decades of research and a partnership with Cornell University have led the team to a stage where they have demonstrated ‘proof of concept’ – curing diabetic rodents using encapsulated insulin-producing stem cells.
“I am delighted that our efforts are finally beginning to bear fruit,” says Jacob. “There is still much work to be done, but we hope that we will be able to initiate the first clinical trial in humans within a few years.”
As with the development of any novel treatment, pitfalls line the path to success and there are no guarantees of a positive outcome. But Jacob is hopeful and is able to begin to imagine a life for Vita in which she is free from the daily management of her diabetes.
“Vita is five years old today,” he says. “If we can deliver on our research within 15 years, she could be cured of type 1 diabetes by the time she is 20. On a personal level, I could not be more motivated in the pursuit of our goal.”