The miracle of my life: mass production of stem cells that secrete insulin

Friday, October 10, 2014

I will write more about my month-long break from blogging and all of my questions about the purpose and direction of this blog shortly.

Existential rambling aside, I have been wanting to write about some huge news in the world of t1 diabetes.  Hopefully, by now, you've read the articles if you follow diabetes updates.  Harvard scientists have successfully enabled stem cells to secrete insulin and they have determined how to mass produce those cells.  This is probably the biggest breakthrough in searching for a diabetes cure in decades.

Scientists have said a cure will take two steps: 1) figuring out to cause stem cells to become beta islet cells & mass producing those cells, and 2) preventing the body from attacking those cells once they are transferred into diabetic patients.  Today marks completion of the first step.  Scientists have simultaneously been working on the second step and several researchers have been working on a way to encapsulate cells by coating them so that they will survive attack by the body's immune system.  So far, encapsulated cells have been to withstand attack for approximately a year in mice.  There is some more progress to make in this regard, but there's a lot of direction.  We know what we're looking for.

This research means that sometime before I die (if I live a normal lifespan), I am going to get the news that I can be cured (will, of course is a whole different thing, because who knows about costs and insurance companies).  That is something I have hoped for since age 9, but until recently, hadn't really thought would happen in my lifetime.

I also can't help but be excited that Dr. Melton's lab solved this problem.  My great uncle is also a professor/doctor/medical research at Harvard.  He made his big discovery decades ago when he figured out why penicillin works, which allowed scientists to make amoxicillin and other antibiotics.  When I was diagnosed with diabetes, he told my mother that they were working on a cure and he thought what they were doing would work.  We took a family vacation to Boston and he took me over to Dr. Melton's lab, which was manned with some graduate students at the time.  They promised me they would cure my disease.

Their work was set back and slowed by political restrictions.

People have said to me, throughout my life, that I would see miracles and advances I couldn't fathom over the course of my lifetime.  I remember going to NASA and seeing a display about being being able to videochat with your grandmother in the future and I remember thinking that that was impossible.  Now, I do it weekly.  If I were able to pick, I would probably pick cures for cancer and heart disease over a cure for diabetes just because I understand the broader collective impact of those diseases, and because of my husband.  But, for me, this would be the miracle of my life.

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