The Story

The Human Trial is the story of a biotech start-up on the verge of a major medical breakthrough — a clinical trial that could lead to a cure for type 1 diabetes. With unprecedented real-time access to the scientists and patients, The Human Trial follows this groundbreaking trial through the lives of three patients who are putting their lives on the line to be first. The stakes are high for everyone involved.

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 revolutionize the treatment of 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 is filming the first year 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, $2.9 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Already five 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 are 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.

It’s a rare opportunity to capture how science, commerce and politics intersect, and to show that science is anything but sterile. The Human Trial is an emotionally gripping story that uncovers the universal truths behind cure research.

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 therapy.

  • It’s a high-stakes drama with compelling characters who have put their lives and careers on the line for medical science.

  • The film will examine why there have only been a handful of cures in the past 100 years. What does it take to cure a major disease?

  • The film will take public awareness for stem cell research to new heights and to new audiences.

  • 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

Global Audience

The Human Trial is a theatrical documentary that will attract viewing audiences and passionate community gatherings alike. It can be a rallying centerpiece to raise much needed funds for cure-focused research, and bring together people who need to share ideas and support.  These gatherings will happen around moments in the film’s release – festivals, theatrical, broadcast, streaming. Through our advocacy groups, the film will be an organizing tool that will connect families to support, information and community. In the past four years, we have built strong relationships within the cell therapy, diabetes research and funding communities. Our outreach partners are OBEY AWARENESS (founded by Shepard Fairey), BEYOND TYPE 1 (founded by Nick Jonas), JDRF, DIABETES CANADA (Formerly Canadian Diabetes Association), AMERICANS FOR CURES (founded by stem cell advocate, Bob Klein), and the IDF (International Diabetes Federation), a UN sponsored organization that works in 160 countries worldwide. Our impact campaign strategists are Picture Motion and The Montlake Group.

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