Diabetes Program

HSCI Diabetes Program leader: Chad Cowan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Our goal is to cure diabetes. To do that, we are working on ways to create beta cells efficiently, and to protect them from attack by the immune system.

Our researchers have discovered how to reprogram adult and embryonic cells into new beta cells. Now, they are exploring how these beta cells can be effectively transplanted into patients, without being rejected.

HSCI researchers are also investigating:

  • how and why the immune attack on beta cells in type 1 diabetes begins
  • why some cells survive,
  • why these cells can’t replenish themselves in type 2 diabetes, and
  • what keeps the battles going.

This work dovetails with the goal of many HSCI researchers, who are seeking to identify “universal donor” cells.

What we have achieved so far

Researchers in the HSCI Diabetes Program have:

  • coaxed human embryonic and adult stem cells into becoming pancreatic beta cells
  • mapped out the full set of proteins at play in mouse and human pancreatic islets
  • pinpointed the genes involved in partitioning parts of the embryo into organs
  • clarified how genes are controlling the late stages of beta cell development,
  • identified genes that may help protect beta cells from the immune system attack.

The BAIRT collaboration

We are central to the Boston Autologous Islet Replacement Program (BAIRT), a unique collaboration that seeks to accelerate a cure for diabetes. HSCI, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Joslin Diabetes Center, Semma Therapeutics, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are working together in BAIRT to generate clinical-grade, pluripotent stem cells that are suitable for use in patients. This work will enable us to show that beta cells derived from patients themselves can be a safe and effective therapy in regulating blood sugar. BAIRT aims to demonstrate clinical proof of concept on:

  • the patient-derived beta cells,
  • the optimal site of implantation in the body, and
  • the best delivery method.

The goal is to obtain FDA approval to start clinical trials by 2020.

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