There's no known cure for Type 1 diabetes, so for 3 million Americans, an insulin pump or regular insulin injections form an imperfect and temporary solution. And it's one that doesn't always keep some of the disease's worst outcomes, including blindness and limb amputation, at bay. Scientists have long sought a better solution, and a team at Harvard is now announcing that, 15 years into its research, it has successfully coaxed human embryonic stem cells into ones that produce insulin. When those cells were transferred to diabetic mice, they behaved as healthy cells do and regulated blood sugar. "We can cure their diabetes right away—in less than 10 days," researcher Doug Melton tells NPR.
Six months later, that was still the case, reports CBS News, which calls the research possibly "the biggest breakthrough in years toward a cure." Because while scientists have been able to achieve a similar end with insulin-producing cells sourced from cadavers, they've struggled with how to get the quantity they needed. Now researchers have "the ability to make hundreds of millions of cells," Melton says. "It's a huge landmark paper," an outside researcher tells NPR. "I would say it's bigger than the discovery of insulin." For Melton, the issue is deeply personal: Both his children, now in their 20s, were diagnosed with the disease as kids. Among the next steps is to move to clinical trials in humans, possibly in as few as three years. (Another announcement related to blood sugar made waves last month.)