Researchers at the University of Alberta are contributing to an innovative insulin trial that could potentially leave people with diabetes needle free.

The trial, which began in San Diego, California in 2014, is underway in Edmonton under the watch of lead investigator Dr. James Shapiro. The first patients have had an insulin producing device implanted within them. The research is partially funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

“The device is actually produced by a manufacturer called ViaCyte,” explains Dave Prowten, president and CEO of JDRF Canada. “Cells are implanted into a device that gets implanted below the skin and those cells will then turn into insulin producing cells providing an alternate source of insulin for people living with Type 1 diabetes.”

Prowten says there’s hope the device could bring an end to insulin injections and costly glucose level testing for months and potentially on a permanent basis.

“People would no longer have to think about diabetes for potentially up to two years,” said Prowten. “It could be a replaceable device but it could literally, once it’s up and running, give people freedom from diabetes.”

The devices consists of a membrane containing multiple layers which permits the smaller insulin molecules to transfer into the body while preventing the larger autoimmune cells from entering, shielding the device from an attack.

Aryssah Stankevitsch, a Type 1 diabetic from Calgary, embraces the idea of a change to her daily routine and an end to the frustration of blood sugar level frustrations.

“Regardless of how well you try to take care of yourself, you’re always going to have a day where (your blood sugar levels are) high, a day where you’re low, and it could be you’re doing the exact same thing every day,” said Stankevitsch.

“To have something like this, that Dr. Shapiro’s put together, is incredible and it could change my life and many other lives as well.”

The devices that are being used in the trial contain cells developed from a stem cell line and ViaCyte is capable of producing a consistent, sustainable supply for millions of patients.

Prowter says the device has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada for use in humans. The initial phase of trials places a focus on patient safety while monitoring for adverse reactions. Should the phase prove successful, investigators will then concentrate on the therapeutic impact of the device.

The JDRF hopes the device will be available to the 300,000 Canadians diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes within the next seven years.

If you would like to participate in a study at the Alberta Diabetes Institute, click here.