In pioneering work, researchers from the Harvard University have produced billions of human insulin producing beta cells - taking a giant leap forward in the quest to find a truly effective treatment for Type 1 diabetes.
"We are now just one pre-clinical step away from the finish line," said Doug Melton, Harvard professor and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
"We have given these cells three separate challenges with glucose in mice and they have responded appropriately. This was really exciting," he added.
Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune metabolic condition in which the body kills off all the pancreatic beta cells, which produce the insulin needed for glucose regulation in the body.
Thus the final pre-clinical step in the development of a treatment involves protecting the approximately 150 million cells, that would have to be transplanted into each patient being treated, from immune system attack
"There have been previous reports of other labs deriving beta cell types from stem cells but no other group has produced mature beta cells suitable for use in patients so far," Melton pointed out.
Melton is now collaborating on the development of an implantation device to protect the cells with Daniel G. Anderson, the Samuel A. Goldblith Professor of Applied Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.
Melton said that the device has thus far protected beta cells implanted in mice from immune attack for many months.
"They are still producing insulin," Melton informed.
The stem cell-derived beta cells are presently undergoing trials in animal models, including non-human primates.
Melton, also co-scientific director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the University's department of stem cell and re-generative biology, hopes to have human transplantation trials using the cells to get underway within a few years.
A report on the new work has been published by the journal Cell.