In laboratory, researchers have developed insulin-producing beta cells

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THURSDAY, Oct. 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) — In what may be a step toward a cure for type 1 diabetes, researchers say they’ve developed a large-scale method for turning embryonic stem cells into fully functioning beta cells capable of producing insulin.
Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder affecting upwards of 3 million Americans, is characterized by the ’s destruction of its own insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. Without insulin, which is needed to convert food into , blood sugar regulation is dangerously out of whack.

Currently, people with type 1 diabetes need daily insulin injections to maintain blood sugar control. But “insulin injections don’t cure the disease,” said study co-author Douglas Melton, of Harvard University. Patients are vulnerable to metabolic swings that can bring about serious complications, including blindness and limb loss, he said at a teleconference this week.

“We wanted to replace insulin injections using nature’s own solution, being the pancreatic beta cell,” Melton said. Now, “we are reporting the ability to make hundreds of millions of these cells,” he added.

Melton ultimately envisions a credit -sized package of beta cells that can be safely transplanted into a diabetes and left in place for a year or more, before needing to be replaced.

But between then and now, human trials must be launched, a venture Melton thinks could begin in about three .

If that research pans out, the Harvard team’s results may to be a benchmark in the multi-decade effort to deliver on the promise of stem cell research as a to access new treatments for all sorts of diseases.

: Douglas A. Melton, Ph.D., co- director, department of stem cell and regenerative biology, Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, .; Albert Hwa, Ph.D., director, discovery research, JDRF; Oct. 9, 2014 Issue of  Cell