Research Focus

‘It’s like a miracle’: The man who may be the first person who reversed his type 1 diabetes.


Brian Shelton in Elyria, Ohio. Shelton may be the first person cured of type 1 diabetes. 
Photograph: Amber N Ford/The New York Times


Brian Shelton – who lived with type 1 diabetes and hypo-unawareness for years – is the first person who ‘reversed’ it, thanks to the new stem cell replacement treatment, according to the scientists. 



Brian Shelton, the first person to take part in a clinical trial for a stem cell therapy, saw their need for insulin disappear almost entirely (by 91% after 90 days). The trial, carried out by pharmaceutical company Vertex and reported last weekend in The New York Times, The Sunday Times, and The Irish Times, has generated huge interest in the type 1 community, reporting that the participant was “cured” of his type 1.



Towards finding the cure

On June 29, 2021, Brian Shelton got an infusion of cells, grown from stem cells but just like the insulin-producing pancreas cells his body lacked. Brian’s body began to automatically control its insulin and blood sugar levels almost instantly. Brian, now age 64, may be the first person cured of the disease with this remarkable treatment. The results, however, have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and diabetes community is curious to know if there will be unanticipated adverse effects and if the cells will last for a lifetime or if the treatment would have to be repeated. Brian Shelton still requires taking immunosuppressive drugs, used in any case of a transplant.



About the stem cell therapy

Curing type 1 requires a renewable source of beta cells that can be produced in the lab. Once placed into the body, they need to restore insulin production and automatically regulate blood-glucose levels. Vertex only shared the data for a stem cell-derived therapy (VX-880), but it has found to need 91% less daily insulin 90 days after receiving just half the target dose.


This breakthrough builds up on the years of research conducted by the biologists and a cell and gene therapy experts from Harvard University (Dr. Bastiano Sanna and dr. Felicia Pagliuca, among others), led by Prof. Doug Melton. From developing embryonic stem cells that can become any cell in the body (2000), through converting stem cells into islet cells, turning them into insulin-secreting islet cells (2014), testing them in mice and rats, to the clinical trial with the first human being.


Vertex plan to continue the clinical trial which is currently underway in the United States, which will take five years, and will involve 17 people with Type 1 diabetes. The company plans to file an Investigational New Drug application with the FDA in 2022 for their encapsulated islet cell program, which could eliminate the need for immunosuppressive drug treatment and, if used successfully in conjunction with VX-880, could be a major step forward in finding type 1 diabetes cure.



Research and support

Along the way, this achievement has been hugely supported by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which is a partner of Diabetes Ireland Research Alliance.

There is a long way to go in diabetes research, finding a cure for diabetes, and helping the millions of people diagnosed ever year across the world. Although the results of this research are very recent and in one person only, it offers hope and optimism, and it is positive news for the diabetes community all over the world, including Ireland. “It’s a whole new life, It’s like a miracle.” – commented Brian Shelton.