After decades without solutions, researchers may have developed a cure for type 1 diabetes. Recently, studies successfully converted stem cells into insulin-producing cells, and in sufficient quantities for transplantation, thus offering glimmers of hope to those battling this disease.
In Britain alone, 400,000 people live with type 1 diabetes. 29,000 of these individuals are children. Thanks to Harvard Professor Doug Melton's extensive research, their need for daily insulin injections may soon end. Melton’s 23-year search to find a cure started when his son, Sam, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a baby. When asked about his research, Melton said, “We are now just one pre-clinical step away from the finish line. It was gratifying to know that we can do something we always thought was possible.”
Type 1 diabetes causes the pancreas, which regulates blood glucose levels, to stop producing insulin. Over time, increased amounts of glucose in the blood can severely damage organs. Glucose levels can be controlled with insulin injections. However, glucose levels need to be controlled very carefully to avoid complications such as blindness, or even loss of limbs. Unfortunately, insulin injections are simply not that precise.
Under Melton, a team of scientists at Harvard are working to address these problems using beta cells derived from stem cells in animal trials. Using embryonic stem cells, or cells which have the ability to transform into any other cell, these researchers made insulin-producing cells that match with normally functioning cells in almost every way. Even after several months, these cells continued to produce insulin.
Chris Mason, Professor of Regenerative Medicine at the University College London said this research is “potentially a major medical breakthrough.” He also added, “If this scalable technology is proven to work both in the clinic and the manufacturing facility, the impact on the treatment of diabetes will be a medical game changer on a par with antibiotics and bacterial infections.”
[Sources: The Daily Telegraph; Associated Press]