Diabetes treated in mice with cell transplant
Twenty three years ago Doug Melton’s infant son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Doug then dedicated his career to finding a cure for the disease and is now almost at the point of human trials and success, after effective long-term trials in mice and macaques.
His approach has been to learn how to grow human insulin producing beta cells that work as well as the normal cells found in the pancreas, and then transplant these within a container into the body.
The container must allow oxygen and glucose to diffuse in and insulin to diffuse out while protecting the cells from attack by the immune-system.
Doug’s team at Harvard have succeeded in growing large quantities of beta cells from human stem cells by using a cocktail of 11 chemical growth factors. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune metabolic condition in which the body kills off all the pancreatic beta cells that produce the insulin needed for glucose regulation in the body. This treatment requires the transplanting of approximately 150 million cells into each patient in a way the protects the cells from immune-attack.
Doug is collaborating on the development of an implantation device to protect the cells with Daniel G. Anderson in the Koch Institute at MIT.
Doug said that the device Anderson and his colleagues at MIT are currently testing has protected beta cells implanted in mice from immune attack for many months. “They are still producing insulin,” Doug said.
So far cell transplantation as a treatment for diabetes is still essentially experimental. It uses cells from cadavers, requires the use of powerful immunosuppressive drugs, and has been available to only a very small number of patients.
Around 10 per cent of all diabetes is Type 1, but it is the most common type of childhood diabetes. Around 29,000 children suffer in Britain.
By producing large quantities of functioning beta cells and trialling them in an effective implantation device, Doug Melton and colleagues are very close to producing a treatment for diabetes that is well-nigh a cure.
Pagliuca, F., Millman, J. and Gürtler, M, et. al. Generation of functional human pancreatic beta cells in vitro. Cell. October 9, 2014. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2014.09.040