Insulin breakthrough can cure diabetes "right away" [VIDEO], Researchers announced a breakthrough that might one day free millions of diabetes sufferers from a lifetime of insulin injections.
But in a recent breakthrough in laboratories at Harvard University, scientists came upon a new technique for transforming stem cells into pancreatic beta cells that respond to glucose levels and produce insulin when necessary. The breakthrough might lead to new less invasive, more hands-off treatment for diabetes.
The discovery described in the journal Cell on Thursday and led by stem cell researcher Douglas Melton is a method of growing billions of precious insulin-secreting cells en masse using human stem cells.
According to researcher Douglas Melton, patients could receive a single transplant with the newly generated cells, which would have the ability to read out the amount of sugar in the blood and dispense just the right amount of the hormone insulin.
Previous attempts to convert stem cells into insulin-producers have proven moderately successful, but these cells mostly produced insulin at will, unable to adjust their output on the fly.
"We can cure their diabetes right away -- in less than 10 days," Melton told NPR. "This finding provides a kind of unprecedented cell source that could be used for cell transplantation therapy in diabetes."
Yet there is still one caveat. For reasons doctors still do not understand, the beta cells in humans with diabetes are attacked by the body's immune system. Researchers like Melton will still need to figure out a way to protect the new beta cells from being killed -- otherwise the breakthrough won't become anything more than another short-term solution.
"It's taken me 10 to 15 years to get to this point, and I consider this a major step forward," Melton told TIME. "But the longer term plan includes finding ways to protect these cells, and we haven't solved that problem yet."
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