Cure for Type 1 Diabetes in Reach?


Harvard_cellsResearchers seeking a cure for Type 1 diabetes may be a giant step closer to the prize.

For most people with this chronic condition, the immune system goes awry, destroying insulin-producing (islet) cells in the pancreas. When a substantial number of these cells are wiped out, little or no insulin is produced. With no insulin to allow glucose into the cells, sugar accumulates in the bloodstream, jeopardizing the person’s health and raising the risk for serious complications.

There is presently no cure—but new research may change that.

Douglas Melton, PhD, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and co-chair of the Harvard department of stem cell and regenerative biology, Cambridge, Mass, and his colleagues have deciphered the intricate process for transforming stem cells into beta cells—insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas that are absent in people with Type 1 diabetes.

Using human embryonic stem cells, the scientists created human insulin-producing beta cells that are nearly identical to beta cells in a healthy person who does not have Type 1 diabetes.

Melton aims to get human transplantation trials on track within the next few years.

Melton began this dogged pursuit when his son was diagnosed with the condition 23 years ago. His daughter also has type 1 diabetes.

An article and video can be found in the Harvard Gazette, and a report is published in the journal Cell.

The image shows human-stem-cell-derived beta cells that have formed islet-like clusters in a mouse. The cells were transplanted to the kidney capsule (the fibrous connective layer surrounding the kidneys); the photograph was taken two weeks later, by which time the beta cells were making insulin and had cured the diabetes in the mouse. Image courtesy of Douglas Melton/Harvard Gazette
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