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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gene Discovery Could Radically Improve Diabetes Treatment

Harvard Stem Cell Institute Co-Director Doug Melton, right, and Peng Yi, a post doctoral fellow in his lab, review data from recent experiments in Melton's lab in Cambridge, Mass. (Harvard University/AP)

Harvard Stem Cell Institute Co-Director Doug Melton, right, and Peng Yi, a post doctoral fellow in his lab, review data from recent experiments in Melton’s lab in Cambridge, Mass. (Harvard University/AP)

Scientists at Harvard say they have found a new gene that produces a hormone that could radically improve treatment for type 2 diabetes.

About 20 million people in the U.S. suffer from type 2 diabetes and control their disease with drugs and insulin injections. But despite treatment, the disease can lead to heart attack, stroke and even blindness.

Professor Doug Melton, co-director of the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University, and his colleagues have discovered a gene that produces insulin making beta cells in mice.

If the injections of the hormone — produced from the gene — can work in humans, patients will no longer need to use medications or insulin injections to control their type 2 diabetes.

Melton is currently working with two pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson, to test the hormone in humans.

He also hopes to find ways to use the new hormone in patients with type 1 diabetes — an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack all insulin-producing cells.

Video: Potential diabetes breakthrough explained

Guest:

  • Doug Melton, co-director of the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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