The Story

The Human Trial is a feature-length documentary with unprecedented, real-time access to one of America’s top labs — ViaCyte in San Diego. This groundbreaking film follows the team’s triumphs and failures in the lab as they attempt to make medical history at a landmark clinical trial in 2015.

More than 90 years after the discovery of insulin, ViaCyte has received FDA approval to launch the first ever-human trial of a stem-cell derived treatment that might cure type 1 diabetes. ViaCyte’s trial is only the third ever in the US, and the sixth ever in the world to use embryonic stem cell therapy to cure a disease. Only a decade ago America was torn apart by a political and religious debate about the ethics of using human embryos for stem cell research.

Now, The Human Trial will film the first six months of the first phase of the trial, to document every step of this remarkable moment in medical science. One donated human embryo might be the cure for millions of people suffering from diabetes. But, more than that, the film provides context for what it took to get here: the years of research, by scores of scientists working in other facilities around the world; and the extraordinary costs of getting a new drug to market — on average, $5.8 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Already two years in production, The Human Trial brings to life the human realities of diabetes, which causes a death every seven seconds and will be the leading cause of death in the US by 2030. With exclusive access to the patients who will be the subjects of Phase I/II of the trial, the film illuminates the emotional, physical and financial costs of diabetes that is a $612 billion health expenditure worldwide.

History is in the making. Humanity is waiting. The Human Trial tells the story.

What does Diabetes look like?

The challenge of making a film about this disease is that you can’t see it. People with diabetes look healthy, and it’s only when the complications become dire – blindness or renal failure – do they appear to be battling a serious disease. We’ve been thinking about how to best illustrate what’s going on inside a body of someone with diabetes (type 1) versus someone who doesn’t have diabetes.

Check out the graphs below. Both present one week of blood sugars for a diabetic and a non-diabetic. You can see that even a diabetic in relatively good control doesn’t come close to what your body does naturally. Elevated blood glucose over time translates to long-term complications, and all the frightening stats that we read about.


Person without type 1 diabetes



Person with type 1 diabetes
(filmmaker Lisa Hepner’s blood sugars)
Shaded grey areas represent the individual goals set by the patient and their diabetes care team.

Every seven seconds a person dies from diabetes.

Source: International Diabetes Federation

Why the film

The Human Trial is the first major film on diabetes and stem cell research.
We’re following a clinical trial that is only the 3rd embryonic stem cell trial in the US and only 6th ever in the world.
The film will examine why there hasn’t been a cure for this 2000 year old disease that plagues the entire world.
The film will take public awareness and fundraising to new heights.
The film will inspire a global audience to accelerate research for a cure for type 1 diabetes.

  • I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1974, at age 3. These many years with diabetes, I’ve had frequent lows, many of them that could have finished me off. I do not have the complications that many long-term diabetics have, but I have lost my hypo awareness completely. I cannot feel the difference between 3 mmol and 22 mmol!  I certainly look forward to seeing this film. I know that I will be able to relate to much of what is shown.

    Chris Miller Edmonton, Canada
  • I have been living with type 1 diabetes since 8 months of age. I am now surviving this disease and its horrible effects for 29 years and I am overwhelmingly exhausted by its effects on my life and everyone around me. Since I can remember I have been impacted by the changing technology from urine glucose test strips to the newest CGM and insulin pump technology. I married 2.5 years ago only to recently put my husband and best friend through the most frightening experience of his life, my being in a coma on a cruise ship. 

    Michelle Rankin Waukee, Iowa
  • I’ve been a type 1 diabetic since I was 9 years old. The story that Shepard [Fairey] shared is the same as mine-a promise of a cure on the horizon that never seems to get any closer.

    Stephanie Cude

Film Impact

Documentary cinema has seen an unprecedented popularity in recent years. With films increasingly accessible through new technologies, this genre continues to gain momentum. Eclectic and discriminating audiences often prefer a compelling documentary to a blockbuster movie. While our film is intended for a general audience, the built-in audience of the global diabetes community is conservatively estimated to be 25.8 million in the US (CDC) and 371 million worldwide (IDF). Our outreach partners, sales agent, and distributor will tap into this international community.

In the last four years, we have built strong relationships within the diabetes research and funding communities. Our outreach partners are OBEY AWARENESS (founded by Shepard Fairey), BEYOND TYPE 1 (founded by Nick Jonas), JDRF, CDA (Canadian Diabetes Association) and the IDF (International Diabetes Federation), a UN sponsored organization that works in 160 countries worldwide. Through our outreach partners and campaign strategists – Picture Motion and The Montlake Group – we will give our audience tools to take action, and raise money for more T1D cure research.

The artist Shepard Fairey, who has type 1 diabetes, is also a great supporter of the film as well. He has created a limited edition print for our film’s fundraising purposes. We were chosen for his Obey Awareness t-shirt campaign in 2015-2016.