Human-Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells and Diabetes

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • Last week, I went on vacation for an entire week to visit the newest member of my family, Aidan Lee Cook, my step grand son.  His life is all about potential and the opportunities in front of him.  I learned who Aidan is, I watched him figure things out, taking his first toy in his hand and taking tastes of food from his parents' fingers.  Life seems so simple when I look at him!



    I have always been in awe of the job of being a parent. The natural ability to love and comfort, and provide for their children.  A parent-child bond is unlike any other relationship we form with another human being. What would a parent do for their children?  Sometimes, it is creating an incredible miracle.

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    Dr. Douglas Melton is a parent of not one child with type 1 diabetes, but two: son Sam and daughter, Emma. Dr. Melton is co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. He has been working in the field of stem cell research since 1993, when his son Sam was diagnosed. Dr. Melton has been on a crusade using his knowledge and skills as a biomedical researcher to find a cure for his children. And, he is creating some miraculous potential!


    Last week, there was a lot of buzz among d-bloggers regarding an article written in Time Magazine about a recent discovery using stem cells. The words "stem cells" raise such controversy.  Most people associate stem cells with embryonic stem cell research. Human embryonic stem cells have the remarkable ability to change into all 200 kinds of cells needed to make up the body: skin, bone, heart, nerve, blood, organs, etc.  The pure nature of these cells hold tremendous promise for treating Alzheimer's, Parkinson's cancer and of importance to us, diabetes.  If we could harness their potential, they could rid David Mendosa of his neuropathy, Allie Beatty of her retinopathy and kidney failure and ultimately rid my mother of Alzheimer's disease and me of type 1 diabetes. But, there are many kinds of stem cells and research has been attempting to use other stem cells hoping they will provide the rich opportunity that embryonic stem cells offer. But the results have been slim.. until now.


    The article in Time Magazine shed light on the use of stem cells harvested from the skin.  This is the first time stem cells from the skin were able to function like pancreatic beta cells in a petri dish! It is called Human-Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells.


    Dr. Melton and his team took skin cells and exposed them to three different genes, which converted them back to an embryonic state, which are called pluripotent stem cells.  The researchers were able to direct these newborn stem cells to grow into beta cells, which are the cells that secrete insulin.  In a Petri dish, they feed the cells a hefty meal of glucose and to Dr. Melton's delight, the cells responded by producing more protein that is needed to breakdown sugar. To make the circle complete, the cells decreased protein production when glucose was low. 


    While this project has a long way to go, it is a very important piece of the gigantic genetic puzzle that will eventually come together to find a cure for all things diabetes related! 


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    Like my step grandson Aidan, these little stem cells are about potential and opportunity, and a father's need to change the circumstances for his children is creating a miracle of hope for all of us!



Published On: September 09, 2009