Stem Cell Success Raises Hopes of Type 1 Diabetes Cure

Posted: October 12, 2014 at 3:44 am

By Alan Mozes HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Oct. 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- In what may be a step toward a cure for type 1 diabetes, researchers say they've developed a large-scale method for turning human embryonic stem cells into fully functioning beta cells capable of producing insulin.

Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder affecting upwards of 3 million Americans, is characterized by the body's destruction of its own insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. Without insulin, which is needed to convert food into energy, blood sugar regulation is dangerously out of whack.

Currently, people with type 1 diabetes need daily insulin injections to maintain blood sugar control. But "insulin injections don't cure the disease," said study co-author Douglas Melton, of Harvard University. Patients are vulnerable to metabolic swings that can bring about serious complications, including blindness and limb loss, he said at a teleconference this week.

"We wanted to replace insulin injections using nature's own solution, being the pancreatic beta cell," Melton said. Now, "we are reporting the ability to make hundreds of millions of these cells," he added.

Melton ultimately envisions a credit card-sized package of beta cells that can be safely transplanted into a diabetes patient and left in place for a year or more, before needing to be replaced.

But between then and now, human trials must be launched, a venture Melton thinks could begin in about three years.

If that research pans out, the Harvard team's results may prove to be a benchmark in the multi-decade effort to deliver on the promise of stem cell research as a way to access new treatments for all sorts of diseases.

Melton, co-director of the Stem Cell Institute at Harvard, described his work as a "personal quest," given that he has two children with type 1 diabetes.

He and his colleagues outlined the recent results in the Oct. 9 issue of Cell.

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Stem Cell Success Raises Hopes of Type 1 Diabetes Cure

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