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Stem Cell Factory To Produce Personalised Diabetes Treatments


As one of many initiatives in the US aimed at manufacturing stem cell treatments, Harvard Stem Cell Institute and a group of hospitals have teamed up with biotech company Semma Therapeutics to advance off-the-shelf treatments for diabetes through clinical trials.

Hope for stem cell therapies is bubbling — especially among those who suffer from type 1 diabetes.

Success stories from recent clinical trials around the world are pointing toward a potential stem cell cure for the autoimmune disease, suffered by an estimated 380 million people worldwide — a number expected to nearly double by 2035.

Cell-based treatments have long been used in the fight against diabetes. They work by taking beta cells — the cells of the pancreas which produce insulin — from dead donors and transplanting them into patients. But this method is hindered by two issues: not enough donors to meet the growing number of diabetes patients, and donor cell rejection, which inevitably leads to the need for immunosuppressant drugs.

The promise of a diabetes cure lays not in allogeneic transplantation — which uses cells from donors — but autologous stem cell therapy. Here stem cells harvested from the patient’s own body are used, eliminating both the problem of donor shortages and the risk of immune rejection.

So can you go from having a collection of your own stem cells to having a batch of new beta cells? That’s the question the new initiative, named The Boston Autologous Islet Replacement Program, is answering with a resounding yes.

Opening Up An Unlimited Source Of Beta Cells

“We’ve reached a point with the technology where we can legitimately start thinking about cell replacement,” — Dr. Richard Lee, researcher at The Stem Cell Institute

Although the first trial won’t start for several years, researchers are confident they have a system which can generate sufficient quantities of high-quality beta cells from patients’ own stem cells.

Experts at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute will derive the stem cells from the blood of patients and develop them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Pluripotent stem cells are the holy grail of stem cells as they can multiply indefinitely and give rise to any other type of cell in the body. The stem cells are then coaxed into becoming beta cells and transplanted into the patients.

Douglas Melton, Co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and scientific founder of Semma, spearheaded much of the research behind the program. By taking an early focus on diabetes, Melton pioneered the idea of converting stem cells into beta cells.

This Harvard lead program represents just one example of how modern healthcare and medicine is moving toward an era of personalised and targeted cell-based therapies. However, this shift is, of course, dependent on a variety of factors. One of which we’re beginning to overcome is the high price of autologous transplants. The benefits of bringing their price down would be considerable, potentially ridding stem cell therapy of the problem of a lack of donors and the huge issue of immune rejection from donor cells.

Thankfully the ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells are no longer a hurdle we need to contend with. And what’s more, the rising study and use of tooth stem cells is proving we now have a highly accessible source of pluripotent stem cells, able to give rise to everything from blood and bone cells, to brain, muscle, and of course, beta cells.

Visit our website today to find out how you can safeguard your children’s future health by storing stem cells from their milk teeth.