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expert reaction to new paper investigating potential treatment for type 1 diabetes using human embryonic stem cells

A study published in the journal Cell has described the production of human pancreatic beta cells from stem cells. These cells are functional in vitro and in vivo when transplanted into mice, raising the possibility that they may in future be used to treat type 1 diabetes.


Dr Gillian Morrison, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“We have been able to produce beta-like cells in the lab for some time, but they have been unable to function as well as their counterparts in the body. The beta cells that Melton and colleagues have generated appear to have equivalent function, this represents a real advance in the field and gives hope for their use in cell replacement therapy for type 1 diabetes. The next important challenge will be to find ways to maintain these cells inside the body so they are protected from the immune response and have long-term function.”


Dr Dusko Ilic, Senior Lecturer in Stem Cell Science, King’s College London, said:

“Human embryonic stem cell-derived therapy for the patients with Type 1 Diabetes is not a matter of the future, it is a matter of today. Pancreatic progenitor cells made from human embryonic stem cells, designed to mature and further differentiate into insulin-producing cells, are approved by the US FDA as an Investigational New Drug for treatment of patients with Type 1 diabetes and the company Viacyte had launched the Phase I/II clinical trial in partnership with the University of California San Diego the last month.”


Prof Chris Mason, Professor of Regenerative Medicine, University College London, said:

“A scientific breakthrough is to make functional cells that cure a diabetic mouse, but a major medical breakthrough is to be able to manufacture at large enough scale the functional cells to treat all diabetics. This research is therefore a scientific and potentially a major medical breakthrough.

If this scalable technology is proven to work in both the clinic and in the manufacturing facility, the impact on the treatment of diabetes will be a medical game-changer on a par with antibiotics and bacterial infections.”


Prof Anthony Hollander, Head of Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool said:

“This is very exciting fundamental research that solves a major roadblock in the development of a stem cell treatment for diabetes.  The study provides a very elegant and convincing method for generating functional insulin-producing cells in large numbers.  Now it needs to be developed for use in patients but at least at this stage it is starting to look promising.”


‘Generation of Functional Human Pancreatic b Cells In Vitro’ by Felicia W. Pagliuca, Jeff Millman, Mads Gurtler et al. published in Cell on Thursday 9th October.


Declared interests

None declared

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