Diabetes Fact Sheet

CIRM funds many projects seeking to better understand diabetes and to translate those discoveries into new therapies.


Diabetes comes in two forms: type 1 (also known as juvenile) and type 2 (also known as adult). As many as 3 million people in the U.S. have type 1 diabetes, which is the form primarily being targeted by stem cell research.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s own immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Insulin normally circulates in the bloodstream after a meal and allows cells of the body to take up sugar and use it for food. Without insulin, cells starve and the sugar builds up in the bloodstream where it can damage the kidneys, blood vessels and retina.

Any potential cure for type 1 diabetes requires replacing the lost insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Currently, the only cells that can be used for such a transplant come from donated organs, which are in short supply. Such insulin-producing cell transplants are also risky because the cells can be rejected by the recipient’s body if they don’t receive immune suppressing drugs.

To solve the first problem, groups of CIRM-funded researchers have developed methods to make replacement insulin-producing cells derived from human embryonic stem cells, which can be grown in large amounts. Implanted into mice and rats these cells are able to regulate blood sugar.

To get around the problem of rejection, CIRM-funded teams have placed cells in a device that implants under the skin and shields the cells from the immune system. Other groups are studying how to regulate the immune system to make stem cell-derived transplants safer.

Disease Team Awards


The team has developed a way of maturing embryonic stem cells into an early form of the cells that produce insulin. They then insert those cells into a permeable device that can be implanted under the skin. Inside the device, the cells mature into insulin-producing cells. In diabetic animals, the cells are able to regulate blood sugar. The team plans to test the technique in other animals and, if it appears to be successful, begin clinical trials in humans.

Progress and Promise in Diabetes Research

CIRM Grants Targeting Diabetes

Researcher name Institution Grant Title Approved funds
Howard Foyt ViaCyte, Inc. Clinical Development of a Cell Therapy for Diabetes $16,603,160
Catriona Jamieson University of California, San Diego Alpha Stem Cell Clinic for the Development of Regenerative Therapies $7,999,137
Roslyn Isseroff University of California, Davis Scaffold for dermal regeneration containing pre-conditioned mesenchymal stem cells to heal chronic diabetic wounds $4,620,144
Allan Robins ViaCyte, Inc. Cell Therapy for Diabetes $22,999,933
Didier Stainier University of California, San Francisco Endodermal differentiation of human ES cells $611,027
Yang Xu University of California, San Diego Developing induced pluripotent stem cells into human therapeutics and disease models $5,165,028
Olivia Kelly ViaCyte, Inc. Methods for detection and elimination of residual human embryonic stem cells in a differentiated cell product $5,405,397
Evert Kroon ViaCyte, Inc. Development of the Theracyte Cellular Encapsulation System for Delivery of human ES Cell-derived Pancreatic Islets and Progenitors. $827,072
Jeffrey Bluestone University of California, San Francisco Stem cell tolerance through the use of engineered antigen-specific regulatory T cells $1,152,768
Charles King University of California, San Diego Biological relevance of microRNAs in hESC differentiation to endocrine pancreas $1,313,649
Maike Sander University of California, San Diego Deciphering transcriptional control of pancreatic beta-cell maturation in vitro $1,258,560
Howard Foyt ViaCyte, Inc. Preclinical and clinical testing of a stem cell-based combination product for insulin-dependent diabetes $10,075,070
Mark Anderson University of California, San Francisco Generation of a functional thymus to induce immune tolerance to stem cell derivatives $1,191,000
David Tirrell California Institute of Technology Engineered matrices for control of lineage commitment in human pancreatic stem cells $526,896

CIRM Diabetes Videos

News and Information


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