In 1921, Toronto researchers discovered insulin. Today, more than eight million individuals with type 1 diabetes worldwide rely on this life-saving medication.

In type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, the body attacks its own insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells, which can dysregulate blood sugar, a dangerous problem without frequent insulin injections. For some regenerative medicine researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T) and its affiliated hospitals, the goal is to eliminate injections and the burden of disease management.

Toronto is leading the way in developing cell therapies — placing healthy insulin-producing cells back into the body — derived from stem cells as effective, long-lasting treatments for type 1 diabetes. Stem cells can turn into almost any cell in the human body.

While injections of new cells to replace the damaged ones are effective, there are challenges like preventing the immune system from attacking new cells and ensuring the cell therapy has access to the vascular system.

To leverage the power of regenerative medicine, which uses cell and gene therapies to treat disease, Medicine by Design integrates cross-disciplinary and multi-institutional efforts in the development of these therapies.

Read about five ways Medicine by Design is transforming the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

  • Nostro and Vasconcelos

Developing functional pancreatic cells

Cristina Nostro, senior scientist at McEwen Stem Cell Institute, UHN, is a pioneer in developing insulin-producing cells as a cell therapy. She collaborates with UHN’s Sara Nunes Vasconcelos, a senior scientist who’s a vasculature, or blood vessel, expert. Together, they are developing a cell therapy for type 1 diabetes. Read more.

  • Nagy research

Cloaking insulin-producing cells to evade the immune system

A team led by Andras Nagy, senior investigator at Sinai Health System, has been developing a method called cloaking to enable treatments for type 1 diabetes. The cloaking technology turns off certain genetic switches in the cells to avoid detection and rejection by the immune system. Read more.

  • scientific image

Engineering the immune system to accept insulin-producing cells

A team led by Sunnybrook Research Institute’s Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker, is working on immune-engineering techniques to enable a treatment for type 1 diabetes. The team’s strategy is to finely tune the immune system to maintain a healthy system while not rejecting a therapeutic transplant. Read more.

  • lymphocytes

A targeted immune-cell therapy for diabetes

Sarah Crome, a scientist at UHN, is working on an innovation that could have an impact on type 1 diabetes as well as the success of organ transplants. Her team is testing a new immune-cell therapy approach using a subset of immune cells with anti-inflammatory properties. Read more.