DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A Durham company is working to develop a product that could change the way type 1 diabetes is treated.

In Humacyte’s Durham lab, scientists are working to find new ways to treat injuries and illnesses.

“The biovascular pancreas is really what we hope will be a new therapy to treat, and perhaps even cure, type 1 diabetes,” explained Dr. Laura Niklason, Humacyte’s founder and CEO.

Humacyte already uses human cells to bioengineer blood vessels, which doctors have implanted into patients during clinical trials. Now researchers want to see if those engineered blood vessels can carry the cells that people with type 1 diabetes need to regulate blood sugar.

“We call it a pancreas because it has islets in it, and islets are the cells in your body that sense sugar in your blood and release insulin to treat the sugar,” noted Niklason. 

Normally those cells are in the pancreas, but Dr. Niklason says the biovascular pancreas would actually go into a patient’s arm.

“We would hope that we could implant this in just an outpatient procedure, so a patient could go in in the morning, get a little bit of anesthetic, get the implant in their arm, and then walk out that afternoon,” she said. 

Humacyte is partnering with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. According to the CDC, more than 1.5 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, and that number is increasing. 

Right now, the biovascular pancreas is still in the research phase. If all goes well, Niklason says it will still be at least a few more years before it’s ready for testing in humans, but she added that early results are promising. She hopes to one day make a difference to people with type 1 diabetes. 

Niklason explained, “Our hope and anticipation is that patients who’ve been living with their diabetes a long time and who are starting to face some of these more serious complications, the  biovascular pancreas might help to stave those off,  prevent those from happening.”