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Pittsburgh filmmakers tell the story of a promising diabetes treatment developed here

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When Lawrenceville filmmakers Josh Eisenfeld and Dan Finegold began brainstorming ideas for their first project, the story behind Pittsburgh diabetes research emerged as the obvious choice.
 
“My dad’s pretty close to finding the cure for type 1 diabetes; maybe we should make a film about it?” Dan suggested matter-of-factly to his friend and colleague.
 
Graduates of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, Eisenfeld and Finegold both grew up in Pittsburgh, although they had never met until their freshman year at college.
 
Their shared interest in media studies led them to start their documentary production company, 4Twelve Pictures. Their first project, with support from Pittsburgh Filmmakers, is “Life’s Work,” the story of a team of Pittsburgh researchers who’ve been searching for 30 years to find a better way to manage Type 1 diabetes, which afflicts 23.5 million people.    
 
Researchers around the world have worked relentlessly to understand this life-threatening disease, hoping for a cure or at least better management techniques, explains Eisenfield. In Pittsburgh, this research has led to an alternative therapy that is showing promise.
 
“I’m not a scientist, but I realized that this story was truly unique,” he says. “It’s a modern day odyssey.”
 
The story begins with the research lead by Massimo Trucco, a co-founder of DiaVacs, a Pittsburgh-based company with a staff of world-recognized experts in the area of immunology. The company hopes its first product will be a cell-based cure for Juvenile diabetes, he says.
 
Trucco is the chief of the Division of Immunogenetics at Children’s Hospital UPMC, faculty member at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and a professor at University of Pittsburgh. The team is currently conducting a randomized clinical trial to evaluate the safety of a vaccine that would relieve patients of the need for daily insulin injections. 
 
Simply put, the therapy would curb rogue cells by blocking the autoimmune attack that takes place in the pancreas of diabetes sufferers by “retraining” the dendritic cells of each patient. The research successfully concluded its Phase I Trial; funding is being raised for the final Phase II Trial and subsequent commercialization.

Pittsburgh doctors on the team include David Finegold, a pediatric endocronologist and geneticist, and Dietrich Stephan, chair of the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

“These are amazing people who have come so far,” says Eisenfeld. “I know they won’t stop until they see this through.”
 
When it's finished, the filmmakers plan to share the documentary with the diabetes community at large, even if the story doesn’t have a definitive ending. In the meantime, 4Twelve is working on music videos and another project filming the post-industrial ruins of the 21st century.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Josh Eisenfeld, 4Twelve Pictures
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