Diabetes is a global disease that currently affects 347 million people all over the world. People with diabetes are unable to produce insulin which can cause serious health problems, including cardiac and kidney problems or nervous system disorders.
The good news is that a team of researchers from Harvard University in Boston (USA), led by Douglas Melton, has just made an important discovery, which has been published in the prestigious journal Cell.
More than 15 years have been spent trying to find a way to produce beta cells on a large scale. These are a specific type of cells that are able to detect blood sugar levels and maintain them at healthy levels producing insulin. Now, there is a solution thanks to the use of stem cells, which are able to develop into any kind of tissue or organ.
Thanks to these long years of research, the procedure for producing mature beta cells, which can secrete insulin, has been synthesized into a process taking 30 days and 6 steps which allowing laboratories to trial the effects of medication to understand how diabetes is produced and so to be better able to fight against the disease.
New treatment possibilities through cell therapy
As a result of these findings, a new treatment for diabetes has been developed which will be carried out through a type of cell therapy called VC-01. The procedure involves implanting partially mature cells in patients, which become “islets” that contain beta cells. A small device called Encaptra is then transplanted and protects these islets from the cells to guarantee the appropriate blood sugar levels.
The first trials with this treatment will be carried out on 3 patients and, if the results are positive then next year, trials with dosages containing greater numbers of cells will be carried out on a total of 36 patients.
Unanimous agreement in the scientific world about the importance of the findings Albert Hwa, Director of Discovery Science at JDRF, a New York based diabetes advocacy group that funded Douglas Melton’s team, said “this research is part of the holy grail of regenerative medicine, trying to make an unlimited source of cells or tissues or organs that you can use in a patient to correct a disease.”
Susan Solomon, Chief Executive of The New York Stem Cell Foundation, believes that the findings are so important that they could change the whole direction of diabetes research.
Best Doctors is delighted about this giant leap forward, which shows the amazing ability of scientific teams to find ever more sophisticated solutions for diseases such as diabetes.