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‘The Human Trial’ Review: The Race for a Diabetes Cure

Imagine what a world without diabetes would look like. A vast reduction in pain, suffering, needless death. And, as a bonus, a significant drop in pharmaceutical ads, probably.

The goal is far away, but not as remote as you may imagine. The married documentarians Lisa Hepner and Guy Mossman spent more than five years making “The Human Trial,” a movie chronicling one research company’s quest for a cure and following two people with diabetes who put themselves forward as test subjects.

The movie opens with footage of Hepner taking a blood sugar reading. As someone with Type 1 diabetes, she is personally invested in this subject. Her narration tells of her 2014 discovery of a San Diego company, ViaCyte, which is developing a treatment by which insulin-making stem cells can be implanted in patients. (This is admittedly a simplistic description of what the treatment is meant to do; the movie goes into more detail, with clarity and patience.)

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Over the course of several years, the moviemakers keep tabs on two diabetes patients, Mason and Gregory, who allow themselves to have modules that release stem cells implanted in them. One finds his blood-sugar levels getting lower. But is this a placebo effect? The movie is blunt in presenting the patients’ emotional ups and downs, and shows the sometimes weary realism of the researchers. It also offers another kind of weariness: ViaCyte is in constant need of new funding.

Shot largely in hospital waiting areas, offices and conference rooms, “The Human Trial” is not a visually dynamic movie. But it builds a good head of steam in the narrative intrigue department before resolving on a low-key note of hope.

The Human Trial
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes. In theaters and virtual cinemas.

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