New Stem Cell Treatment, Successful in Mice, May Someday Cure Type 1 Diabetes
When his infant son Sam was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two decades ago, Doug Melton made himself a promise: He would cure it. When his daughter Emma was diagnosed with the same autoimmune disease at 14, he redoubled his efforts.
Finally he can see the finish line. In a paper published Thursday in the journal Cell, Melton announces that he has created a virtually unlimited supply of the cells that are missing in people with type 1 diabetes.
By replacing these cells—and then protecting them from attack by the body's immune system—Melton, now a professor and stem cell researcher at Harvard, says someday he'll have his cure.
"I think we've shown the problem can be solved," he said.
In type 1 diabetes, which usually starts in childhood and affects as many as three million Americans, the person's immune system attacks and destroys beta cells in the pancreas. Melton used stem cells—which can turn into a wide variety of other cell types—to manufacture a new supply of these beta cells, which provide exquisitely fine-tuned responses to sugar levels in the blood.
When you eat, beta cells increase levels of insulin in your blood to process the extra sugar; when you're running on empty, the cells dial down insulin levels.
Since the 1920s, people with type 1 diabetes have been kept alive with insulin injections, though many still face nerve damage, slow wound healing, and even blindness because even the best pumps and monitors are not as effective as the body's beta cells.
The only known cure for type 1 diabetes is a beta cell transplant, which takes the cells from someone wh Continue reading