Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs)
Engineering Therapeutic Cells
ViaCyte scientists were the first to perform directed differentiation of human embryonic stem cells into definitive endoderm, the gatekeeper cells that can further differentiate into pancreas, liver, and other cells, tissues, and organs.
Engineering stem cells into definitive endoderm and then pancreatic endoderm represented pivotal milestone discoveries that changed the diabetes cell therapy landscape.
Stem Cell Engineering Basics
Stem cell engineering refers to the ability to manipulate and control the powerful potential of stem cells. ViaCyte is focused on pluripotent embryonic stem cells (ESCs) due to their exceptional capacity to expand to large numbers as well as the ability to direct their differentiation into a number of potentially therapeutic, specialized, cell types.
Expansion – Harnessing the growth potential of stem cells requires an understanding of the signals that instruct them to undergo self-renewal (cell division to make copies of themselves) without changing into more specialized cell types. ViaCyte has spent many years developing advanced stem cell growth media and conditions for expanding as well as cryopreserving undifferentiated ESCs thus providing the necessary foundation for clinical and commercial scale-up and manufacturing of ESC-derived cell products.
Differentiation – Stem cells have the capacity to transform into more specialized cell types through a process known as differentiation. Since ESCs can, in theory, generate any cell type present in the body through sequential steps of specialization, graphically depicted below, it is especially critical to control the very first steps of this process in an efficient and homogeneous manner. This relies on the ability to precisely change the environment of the stem cells to cause them to undergo specific, sequential steps in the pancreatic differentiation pathway.
From hESCs to PEC-01™ Cells
During development of an organism, cells transition through highly orchestrated regional and temporal changes leading to specialized cell types (differentiation). These specialized cells make up the tissues and organs of the body that carry out specific functions like the beta cells in the pancreas which control blood sugar levels.
By leveraging the studies of developmental biologists, ViaCyte invented a reproducible process for differentiating hESCs into pancreatic endoderm cells (PEC-01) through a patented multistep process. The process recapitulates the natural development of the human pancreas. During each step, prescribed types and amounts of growth factors, growth media and supplements induce hESCs to progress along the differentiation pathway until they become PEC-01 cells. Once implanted under the skin of a patient with diabetes, PEC-01 cells are expected to mature into functional beta cells.
PEC-01 Cells – A Renewable Source of Replacement Beta Cells
ViaCyte does not deliver stem cells as a product. Instead, ViaCyte uses stem cells as starting material to make its products. In fact, ViaCyte goes to great lengths to ensure stem cells are not in its products. For more information on the different types of stem cells, and how they are used in biomedical research and product development, please see the ISSCR website.