Stem-cell cure for Type 1 diabetes 'on par with discovery of antibiotics'
Woman giving herself insulin injection (Shutterstock)

The Telegraph's Sarah Knapton reports that scientists at Harvard University have discovered how to use stem-cells to manufacture insulin-producing cells, paving the way to a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to stop producing insulin, which regulates glucose levels is in the blood. It is the most common form of diabetes in children, and makes up about 10 percent of overall cases in adults.

Diabetics keep the glucose levels within acceptable levels via daily insulin injections, but those injections are not sufficiently accurate to manage the body's metabolism, which leads to complications like the loss of limbs and blindness.

Doug Melton, Harvard's Xander University Professor and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, began researching the disorder twenty-three years ago, when his infant son, Sam, was diagnosed with it.

He and his fellow researchers at Harvard were able to use embryonic stem cells to create insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells that would obviate the need for insulin injections. They implanted the cells in non-human primates earlier this year, and to date, the cells are still producing insulin.

"We are now just one pre-clinical step away from the finish line," Melton said.

"It was gratifying to know that we could do something that we always thought was possible," he continued, "but many people felt it wouldn't work. If we had shown this was not possible, then I would have had to give up on this whole approach. Now I'm really energized."

"If this scalable technology is proven to work in both the clinic and in the manufacturing facility, the impact on the treatment of diabetes will be a medical game-changer on a par with antibiotics and bacterial infections," Chris Mason, Professor of Regenerative Medicine at University College London, told The Telegraph.

Rockefeller University's Elaine Fuchs concurred, calling the breakthrough "one of the most important advances to date in the stem cell field. For decades, researchers have tried to generate human pancreatic beta cells that could be cultured and passaged long term under conditions where they produce insulin."

"Melton and his colleagues have now overcome this hurdle and opened the door for drug discovery and transplantation therapy in diabetes," she added.

A report on the research was published in the journal Cell.