HSCI co-director leads multi-institutional center to advance type 1 diabetes research

February 23, 2021

The JDRF Center of Excellence in New England will accelerate beta cell replacement therapy

Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) co-director Douglas Melton, Ph.D., will lead a new multi-institutional center funded by JDRF to advance type 1 diabetes research. The JDRF Center of Excellence in New England will focus on the transplantation of beta cells, the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas that are attacked by the immune system during type 1 diabetes.

The center is also led by JDRF scientific staff leader Esther Latres, Ph.D. Other collaborators include Michael Brehm, Ph.D., and Dale Greiner, Ph.D., of the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence at UMass Medical School, and HSCI affiliate faculty member Stephan Kissler, Ph.D., at Joslin Diabetes Center. The team will closely collaborate with Lenny Shultz, Ph.D., at The Jackson Laboratory in Maine.

“By taking advantage of the advances in stem cell science and genome editing, our team is excited to work collaboratively to solve the problem of immune rejection of beta cells,” said Melton, who is the Xander University Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University. “We aspire to find cell and gene manipulations that will enable cell transplantation to treat and maybe cure T1D.”

The Center of Excellence in New England will focus on four main areas of beta-cell replacement research:

  • Develop reliable systems to examine what happens at the cellular and molecular levels in an autoimmune attack, with the goal of reducing or eliminating those reactions.
  • Engineer a cell system that reproduces and amplifies the beta cell-to-immune cell interactions in human T1D to better assess the effectiveness of therapies.
  • Identify the different subsets of immune cells that target beta cells to apply this knowledge in the development of strategies that prevent beta cell destruction by the immune system.
  • Explore new technologies, such as gene editing, to create stem cell-derived beta cells that can withstand immune attacks.

“The time is now. In this unprecedented era in medical advancement, it is more important than ever that we leverage new innovation to accelerate the most promising areas of research towards cures for type 1 diabetes,” said Aaron Kowalski, Ph.D., JDRF CEO. “We believe wholeheartedly in the leadership of both Dr. Melton and Dr. Latres, and we are confident in the groundbreaking work that is sure to come from the Center of Excellence in New England.”

“I am truly blown away by the research planned at the JDRF Center of Excellence in New England. My own desire to find a cure is inspired by my mom living with T1D for almost 60 years. We have supported several of the researchers at this JDRF Center of Excellence individually before. But the JDRF Center of Excellence in New England excites me and gives me tremendous optimism because it brings together the brightest minds, along with the entire JDRF ecosystem, with a laser-sharp focus on developing cures,” said John Cammett, Seed Funder, JDRF Center of Excellence in New England.

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This story was adapted from a press release by JDRF, published on February 23, 2021, under the title, “JDRF Announces New Center of Excellence in New England to Advance Type 1 Diabetes Research.”