The Human Trial Image

The Human Trial

By Alan Ng | November 10, 2022

A cure for diabetes is five years away, or at least that’s what filmmaker Lisa Hepner was told when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes over three decades ago. Hepner’s documentary, The Human Trial, spotlights the groundbreaking clinical trials going on right now in the fight against diabetes. In addition, she offers a behind-the-scenes look at the science, business, and people in search of a cure.

The Human Trial is, in part, the personal story of co-director/writer Hepner as she shows us her struggle with type 1 diabetes. Still, she and co-director Guy Mossman give us astonishing access to the clinical trial process for a potential cure involving embryonic stem cells. Type 1 diabetes is at present incurable as one’s immune system attacks the part of the pancreas that produces insulin. However, this new research has the potential to jump-start the endocrine system to produce insulin once again.

The first of two paths we follow involves the trial subjects, patient 1 (Maren) and patient 2 (Greg). Both have had diabetes for most of their lives and, before the trials, have felt their system decline. However, the stakes for Greg are higher as he is slowly losing his vision.

Maren and Greg walk us through how their diagnosis forever changed their lives. They share the physical, emotional, and financial pain they’ve experienced over the years. Yet, the trials and their possibilities for a cure give them hope. But hope is tempered by uncertainty in always wondering if the treatment is helping or hurting. Are they even being treated at all?

“…astonishing access into the clinical trials process for a potential cure…”

The Human Trial then takes us into the belly of the beast at the research clinics themselves. Here the doc goes deep into not just the science fueling the research but the process of running trials and documenting results. Once word gets out that there is a possible cure, the researchers are inundated by requests from potential patients worldwide desperately wanting to be part of them.

Then there’s the money. Conducting research ain’t cheap… we’re talkin’ billions and billions of dollars. Yes, there’s begging the government and the thankless process of finding wealthy donors and investors. But real hope is found from interested partners overseas.

The Human Trial fulfills the all-important “teach me something new” category of documentaries. The world of clinical studies is something that I was exposed to in high school and college, but now we’re seeing it in action. There’s an element in watching the sausage being made, but this sausage is worth it in the end. There’s also a rollercoaster element to the proceedings, alternating between moments of optimism and discouragement. But, the film leaves us with this feeling that the pot of gold is within reach, though tempered against the recent Dobbs decision that may impact embryonic stem cell research.

The Human Trial stands out as a documentary, thanks to Lisa Hepner. Not only is she a proven producer and documentarian, but her intimate struggle with diabetes makes her the perfect person to tell this story.

For screening information, visit The Human Trial official website

The Human Trial (2022)

Directed: Lisa Hepner, Guy Mossman

Written: Lisa Hepner

Starring: Maren, Greg, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

The Human Trial Image

"…stands out..."

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