Harvard researchers provide possible cure for type 1 Diabetes

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Oct 11, 2014 08:44 AM EDT

A team of Harvard stem cell researchers may have just revolutionized the way the world looks at type 1 Diabetes when they released Thursday, Oct. 9, what could be a landmark finding on the disease's possible cure.  

The cure involves the use of embryonic stem cells which would produce large quantities of insulin-producing beta cells-the panacea for Diabetes 1 which for the longest time has no known cure.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder  which is characterized by the body's own immune system attacking pancreatic beta cells, barring the production of insulin-- an important hormone which regulates the blood glucose levels. Insulin drop means starvation of the body's cells because food cannot be converted into energy.

A temporary solution is the regular use of insulin injections or insulin pump, whose side effects could lead to blindness and limp amputation, among others.

Thus, this recent breakthrough could be what the world has been waiting for since the condition is said to affect around 3 million people in the U.S. alone at a cost of $15 billion.

Dr. Douglas Melton, lead of the research team, reported a step-by-step procedure in the use of stem cells to produce pancreatic cells which produce insulin. The pancreatic cells, also known as beta cells, could then be transplanted into diabetes 1 patients which would allow them to create and utilize insulin properly.

The research has been tried on diabetic mice, which cured them in less than 10 days. "We've given these cells three separate challenges with glucose in mice, and they've responded appropriately; that was really exciting," Melton said. Though, he admitted that it would still take a year or more to finally have the procedure tested on humans.

Melton has devoted his career in the quest for the "cure" of this condition which has long-affected his two children. Finally, his devotion and hard work have paid off.  "We are now just one pre-clinical step away from the finish line. It was gratifying to know that we could do something that we always thought was possible. If we had shown this was not possible, then I would have had to give up on this whole approach. Now I'm really energised," he said in an interview.

The said cure has also brought good news to people affected by type 2 Diabetes, a condition which hinders correct insulin production in the body. While Diabetes 1's cause is not entirely known, but has been attributed to genetic and environmental factors; Diabetes 2 is more lifestyle-caused.

Stem cells have been the talk of the medical and academic world because of the limitless possibilities it could provide in curing illnesses and in reviving youth. It has been a subject of countless debates, though, because of the ethical concerns surrounding its procedure which usually involves the use of human embryo.

In Dr. Melton's case, however, Dailymail.co.uk reported that he was also able to turn human skin cells into ones that make insulin, a more ethically acceptable practice. 

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