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Frederick Litchard

BIOL-1615-023
Article Summary
11/14/2014
Harvard labs growing insulin producing B-cells

On October 9th 2014, Professor Douglas A Melton and his team of researchers at the Harvard
department of stem cell and regenerative biology released the resource article titled: Generation of
Functional Human Pancreatic b Cells In Vitro.
Background:
The human body has several systems that play key roles in maintaining homeostasis which is an
internal balance. This balance must be maintained for the entire organism to function properly and
continue to live, eat and reproduce. The organ known as the pancreas has special cells referred to as
Beta cells or b cells. These b cells are responsible for sensing the amount or level of glucose that is
present in the blood stream. Every cell in the body needs to process glucose into Adenosine
Triphosphate or ATP. ATP is the energy currency each individual cell uses to conduct its daily operation.
Once a person has a meal the pancreatic b cells senses that there is too much glucose in the blood
stream so they produce the hormone known as insulin and releases it into the blood stream. Insulin is
basically the key that unlocks the cells of the body and allows them to uptake or absorb the glucose they
need to continue their work. People with type 1 diabetes are born with an immune system that attacks
and kill its own b cells in the pancreas so glucose just builds up in the blood stream and starves the body
cells of the glucose they desperately need. This is why people with diabetes must continually check their
glucose levels and inject insulin into their bodies with needles several times daily.
The researchers at Harvard University are using human pluripotent stem cells to produce
pancreatic b cells on a large scale. These created b cell have the same capability normal adult pancreatic
b cell do. They sense glucose levels and respond by producing and excreting insulin. This is a major

breakthrough for treating patients with diabetes. As it stands treatment for diabetes effects about 3
million us citizens and cost about 15 billion dollars annually. The researchers and looking at the
possibility of transplanting these created b cells into diabetes patients so they can create their own
insulin thereby relieving them of constantly checking their glucose levels and injecting insulin. The
researchers have been able to transplant these b cells into animal successfully and within just a few
months the cells are function properly.
The next major hurdle to be overcome is that of reducing the autoimmune response of the
patient that would most likely attack and kill these newly transplanted b cells. This issue can be
alleviated by suppressing the patient’s immune system which is not nearly the ideal treatment. They are
also looking at using human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) which would be pull stem cells from
the patient somatic tissue and would thereby reduce the risk of an immune system attack. There are still
many bugs to be worked out but this research show great promise for both stem cell research and the
fight against diabetes.

Works cited:
http://hsci.harvard.edu/news/stem-cells-billions-human-insulin-producing-cells
http://hsci.harvard.edu/files/hsci/files/pagliuca_et_al_cell_2014.pdf