Giant Breakthrough in Type 1 Diabetes Research

13th October 2014

Diabetes Ireland is delighted to hear of the Harvard success and congratulate Professor Melton and colleagues on figuring out the complex series of steps necessary to turn stem cells into beta cells.


Hopefully, they can negotiate the regulations for mass production so that an abundant supply of beta cells is available an new and innovative methods will be developed to cure/treat Type 1 diabetes.

Type I diabetes is an autoimmune condition whereby the body kills off its own beta (insulin producing) cells resulting in the need for daily insulin administration through the skin.
Replacing beta cells in the first step towards a cure, but the replaced beta cells need to be protected from the body’s autoimmune response. This means protecting them in a coating or taking drugs to prevent the response (possible worse side effects than diabetes).
While excited about this major step towards a cure, it may be many years before this is widely available. Other cure options on the horizon include technology cures which may be less invasive.
So for people with Type 1 diabetes, there is hope of seeing a cure during your lifetime and therefore, ensure you stay healthy so that when available you can avail of it.

Dr Anna Clarke,

Health Promotion Manager, Diabetes Ireland

Professor Melton’s research project explained

Our research partners in the UK, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), have been heavily involved with this project. So what is it?

A new method for converting stem cells to beta cells could speed encapsulated cell replacement product development and research to cure type 1 diabetes
Insulin therapy has long been the only method of treating type 1 diabetes (T1D), but a major breakthrough in producing replacement beta cells is bringing new hope that more effective, alternative treatments may be possible.
According to findings reported in the scientific journal Cell, JDRF-supported Harvard University researcher Doug Melton, Ph.D., has developed a method for converting human stem cells (both embryonic and non-embryonic types) into insulin-producing beta cells in the lab. The new method will significantly speed the conversion process. Previous lab methods have only been able to partially complete the conversion process. After reaching a certain point, the immature cells could only mature into fully functioning beta cells after implantation into animals, and the final conversion took months to occur.
Dr. Melton’s new method of driving the full conversion is an important advance towards potential large-scale, rapid production of human beta cells. Currently, sources of human beta cells are largely limited to cadaver donors. Once perfected, however, Dr. Melton’s conversion method could exponentially increase the availability of human beta cells, speeding delivery of novel T1D cell replacement therapies and accelerating basic research on a cure for the disease.
“JDRF is thrilled with this advancement toward large scale production of mature, functional human beta cells by Dr. Melton and his team,” said JDRF Chief Scientific Officer Richard A. Insel, MD. “This significant accomplishment has the potential to serve as a cell source for islet replacement in people with T1D when used in encapsulated cell-replacement products. It may also provide a resource for discovery of therapies that promote survival or regeneration of beta cells and development of screening biomarkers to monitor beta cell health and survival.”
JDRF recently awarded a new multi-million dollar research grant to Dr. Melton, for scaling up production of beta cells using his new method, to hopefully provide a virtually unlimited supply of human beta cells. Dr. Melton will also begin working with other members of the JDRF Encapsulation Consortium to conduct animal tests of experimental encapsulation products using this new source of beta cells.