A father of two children with type 1 diabetes, Doug Melton promised to cure his children. Stem cell researcher and professor at Harvard proposed to replace missing cells in patients with type 1 diabetes and protect those from the body’s own immune system.
Beta cells found in the pancreas are responsible for producing insulin in the body, and people with type 1 diabetes have their body’s immune system attack their beta cells. Stem cells have the ability to turn into different types of cells, and Melton utilized those to grow an unlimited supply of beta cells that respond to blood sugar.
For the longest time, people suffering from type 1 diabetes rely on insulin to keep them alive, but with various side effects like slow healing, blindness and nerve damage. Type 1 diabetes can only be cured by transplanting beta cells from someone who died recently, but would need to remain on medication for life.
As of date there are less than 1000 transplants for beta cells due to its complications.
Melton along with 50 graduate students created beta cell replacements that they tested in rodents that seemed to work, where human testing is their next target.
Melton and his team, after spending a decade, have managed to grow stem cells from human embryos into beta cells, where countless others have failed. They can also utilize pluripotent stem cells to avoid controversies and ethical laws.
These two artificial beta cells can help cure type 1 and 2 diabetes as well because type 2 diabetes is more likely caused by obesity not genetic disorder.
Break through Barriers
New advances in stem cell research, including Melton’s work, show promise as a treatment for diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
The first part of Melton’s solution to his problem was creating the beta cells. The second part is trickier where he needs to protect them from the body’s faulty immune system. There were a number of solutions suggested like implanting a device that coat the cells with a substance to stop the immune cells from sticking to them, or enclose the cells like a tea bag.
Melton’s work would need a few more years to be fully capable to test on human patients.