Stem cell research offers hope on type 1 diabetes
When his two children were stricken with type 1 diabetes, Harvard stem cell scientist Douglas Melton says, he did what any father would want to do: He set out to cure the disease.
After 15 years of effort, including some false starts and regulatory hurdles, Melton has taken a major step toward that goal.
In a paper published in the journal Cell on Thursday, he reported a step-by-step procedure that starts with stem cells and results in hundreds of millions of the precious pancreatic cells that secrete the hormone insulin, keeping blood sugar levels in balance. It is the lack of insulin produced by those cells, called beta cells, that lies at the root of type 1 diabetes.
Ultimately, the hope is those cells could be transplanted into diabetes patients and allow them to create insulin naturally, creating a paradigm shift in treating a disease currently kept in check by insulin injections.
Melton cautions that the work is still years from being tested in patients and many challenges, scientific and practical, remain. But he is gratified to have reached this point and even more motivated to continue, so as not to disappoint the millions of people who suffer from type 1 diabetes, which is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.
“We’re tired of curing mice,” Melton said in an interview. “Most patients are sick of hearing that something’s just around the corner; I’m sick of thinking things are just around the corner. But I do believe in the big picture.”
Melton hopes the cells could be ready to be tested in people in a few years. Already, cells are being trans Continue reading