Scientists Coax Human Embryonic Stem Cells Into Making Insulin

I found this headline on NPR this morning: Scientists Coax Human Embryonic Stem Cells Into Making Insulin

Could be the game changer we've been hoping for.

Dr. Douglas Melton, PhD says they've found a way to get stem cells to create thousands of pancreatic cells and they've cured diabetes in rats. Of course, they still have to work out how to keep the body's immune system from rejecting the new cells.

He estimates they'll be testing this on humans in three years.

Without hope we have nothing.

I ran into a rant against this story on social media this morning. The person, obviously frustrated with the years of waiting for a cure that is "just around the corner," declared that he was not a rat.

It pains me to know that there are people living with diabetes who (seemingly) have given up hope. Who will only consider the possibility if the effect is immediate.

I couldn't bring myself to respond directly to the rant. I didn't want to have that vitriol turned against me. Amazing how quickly hope can be crushed.

this sounds like great news-if not for us, for future generations of would-be t1s (or t2?s) that will be able to eat without doing maths, and for parents of t1s that will be able to have a full nights sleep! im with you, corinna, im still hoping!

Link is inop.

I’m curious if this is related to Viacyte, a southern California company that has generated pancreas cells and then encapsulated them into an implantable porous envelope to evade the immune response. Last I heard, Viacyte is very close to starting their first clinical trials. I believe the FDA has authorized clinical trials for Viacyte.

Another company, Diabetes Research Institute, is also researching this same concept.

I found the story at

I saw Melton talk about this for years at conferences. Like most induced differentiation problems it's essentially combinatorial chemistry as applied to cell signaling - a truly staggering number of 96-well titer plates went to incinerators to bring us this result. Not to mention repurposed IVF embryos.

It's a substantial advance. But the problem with the irrational exuberance like that displayed by Olberholzer (as important as the discovery of insulin? Really?) is that this mode of curing the disease - beta cell replacement - has, strictly speaking, been around since 1999; it's called the Edmonton protocol. Recipients are on immunosuppressants for life.

Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease, and that's the real bear - stopping the re-rejection of the beta cells. The semi-permeable membrane as a protective envelope idea has, likewise, been around for decades. But getting it to work is a hard problem and, really, the central problem vis a vis a cure.

Now, what Melton's results add is a way, potentially, to make cell introduction trivial - after all, if the reagent's plentiful and cheap enough, just do a subcutaneous transplant every month and let the cells be rejected again or the membrane be scarred over, and pop in a new one!

But when you say it out loud like that, the limitations of that approach when actually applied become more apparent - is it really practical to subject patients to something like that? What about intermediate conditions as the effectuality of the module dies down?

In other words - neat, but unanswered questions still abound about how to make this work as a practical cure.

I can imagine subsequent steps to be performed on these cells aimed at reducing their antigenicity by reprogramming. That's more research and more trial and error - maybe 3 years' worth, but that seems awfully optimistic.

Finally! They cured diabetes in mice, like, years ago. I am happy for mice, but now I am happy for us, too!

I am very happy to hear that one half of a functional cure is realistically on the horizon. The other half is the semi-permeable membrane needed to protect the beta cells from the auto-immune attack. The efforts of Viacyte et al seem very promising and it seems realistic that someday there really will be a functional cure.