(WTVM) - Three million Americans have Type-1 diabetes, a disease where the immune system stops the pancreas from making insulin.
Patients rely on daily blood sugar checks and insulin injections to survive, but now there's hope on the horizon.
Jeremy Pettus has pricked his finger every day, several times a day, for the past 20 years.
"I figured out the other day, I think I've checked my blood sugar either, somewhere in between 40,000 to 50,000 times in my life," Pettus said.
Pettus has Type-1 diabetes. His pancreas doesn't make insulin so he has to inject his own.
"It's tough you know, it's not any easy disease," Pettus said.
But Pettus isn't just a patient with the disease; he's also a doctor who wants to cure it.
"It would be absolutely life-changing," he says.
Both Dr. Pettus and Dr. Robert Henry are conducting the first study in humans to see if embryonic stem cells can help patients with type-one diabetes make insulin.
"I think this is the most exciting thing that's happened," says Dr. Henry.
The stem cells are grown in the lab and programmed to develop into islet cells - the special cells in the pancreas that normally produce insulin. Then they are placed in a special capsule to prevent immune rejection.
Dr. Henry say that capsule is then placed underneath the skin in patients with type-one diabetes.
In animal studies, the stem cells secreted insulin and regulated blood sugar levels. Researchers are hoping for the same in humans. They are studying 40 patients in a phase one safety trial. If it works, it could change millions of lives, including Pettus'.
"It would be the greatest thing ever," Pettus said.
Type-1 diabetes typically affects children and young adults, but older adults can also be diagnosed with the disease.