Scientists at Harvard University have discovered how to make “huge quantities” of insulin-producing cells, which could possibly lead to a cure for diabetes, reported The Telegraph.
Harvard professor Doug Melton has been working on diabetes research for 23 years. Melton’s son, Sam, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a baby, and he has been working towards a cure ever since.
“We are now just one preclinical step away from the finish line,” Melton said. “It was gratifying to know that we can do something we always thought was possible.”
The beta cells, necessary for transplantation, are derived from stem cells and are currently going through clinical trials. The cells are still producing insulin in various animals, including nonhuman primates, months after their transplants.
Type 1 diabetes means that the pancreas does not produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Most commonly diagnosed in children, Type 1 requires patients to use insulin, often in the form of injections.
With 21 million diagnosed cases of diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2) in 2012, the metabolic disease is the seventh leading cause of death in America. In 2010, a total of 234,051 death certificates listed diabetes as an underlying or contributing cause of death.
This scientific breakthrough could radically change the lives of millions of people across the globe, not just in America, where 1.7 new cases were diagnosed in 2012. It also proves the overall importance of continuing stem cell research as a means to find cures for diseases and disorders that were previously thought incurable.