Melton Laboratory

We study the developmental biology of the pancreas with a view to finding new treatments for diabetes. Our aim is to understand how the pancreas develops and use that information to grow and develop new pancreatic cells (Islets of Langerhans). This project is an example of the larger question of how vertebrates make an organ from undifferentiated embryonic cells.

Our experimental approaches use the tools of molecular, cellular and chemical biology to investigate how precursor or stem cells give rise to the pancreas and how pancreatic tissue is maintained in adults.   This includes identifying cells and gene products that specify developmental fates and physiological functions during organogenesis, regeneration, and following autoimmune attack.

We use a variety of techniques including functional genomics, chemical screening, tissue explants and grafting. While we use several vertebrate organisms, including frogs, chickens, and axolotls, the main thrust of our work is done with human stem cells, both embryonic and iPS cells, as well as their mouse counterparts.

Directing cells to form new pancreatic tissue has a practical significance: if our studies are successful, it should be possible to apply our conclusions to human cells and provide a source of insulin-producing beta-cells for diabetics.

Contact

Research

Research in our laboratory focuses on the developmental biology of the pancreas. We wish to understand how the pancreas normally develops and use that information to grow and develop pancreatic cells (islets of Langerhans).

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One goal is to understand how vertebrates make an organ from undifferentiated embryonic cells. A longer-term goal has practical significance: if our studies are successful, it should be possible to apply our conclusions to human cells and provide a source of insulin-producing beta-cells for diabetics.

Our main challenge is to understand the precursor or stem cells that give rise to the pancreas and to characterize the key gene products that specify cell fates and functions during organogenesis. To this end, we use several vertebrate organisms, including frogs and chickens but the majority of our studies are done with mice and human embryonic stem cells. We use a wide variety of techniques, including functional genomics, chemical screening, tissue explants and grafting for analyzing inductive signals, and developmental genetics for direct assays of gene function. The aim of all our experiments is to understand the genes, cells, and tissues that direct pancreatic organogenesis.

Teaching

SCRB 10

Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology

Catalog Number: 96716
Douglas A. Melton, Kevin C. Eggan, and W. Anderson
Half course (fall term). M., W., F., at 1, and a weekly section to be arranged. EXAM GROUP: 6
Fundamental concepts in developmental biology will be presented within the framework of the developing and regenerating mammal. Where possible, lectures will focus on humans.
Note: This course, when taken for a letter grade, meets the General Education requirement for Science of Living Systems or the Core area requirement for Science B.
Prerequisite: Concurrent enrollment in Life and Physical Sciences A or Life Sciences 1a.

SCRB 110 

Classic Experiments in Developmental Biology

Catalog Number: 15214
Enrollment: Limited to 20.
Douglas A. Melton
Half course (spring term). Mon., 10 am-noon. EXAM GROUP: 18

This course will introduce students to classic experiments in developmental biology. We will explore the historical background, experimental design, and results of a handful of experiments that have defined the field of developmental biology and changed our understanding of the discipline. Students will read primary literature and, in turn, present the conclusions in written and oral formats.
Note: Expected to be given in 2012–13.
Prerequisite: SCRB 10 or permission of the instructor.

SCRB 91r

Introduction to Research

Catalog Number: 75408
William J. Anderson and members of the Department
Half course (fall term; repeated spring term). Hours to be arranged.

Laboratory research in topics related to the Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology Concentration under the direction of, or approved by, members of the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Principal Faculty of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, or others with permission. A paper must be submitted to the laboratory sponsor and to the HDRB Concentration Office for review by the Course Director and Head Tutors.
Note: Limited to Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology Concentrators; written permission of the laboratory sponsor must be submitted to the HDRB Concentration Office prior to enrolling in the course. This introductory research course is intended to prepare students for SCRB 99 and may ordinarily be repeated no more than once. Ordinarily may not be taken as a fifth course. Laboratory safety session required.

Life Sciences 60: Ethics, Biotechnology, and the Future of Human Nature

Harvard College/GSAS: 2164 Spring 2011-2012
Douglas A. Melton and Michael J. Sandel
Meeting Time: M., 2-4, and a weekly section to be arranged

Explores the moral, political, and scientific implications of new developments in biotechnology. Does science give us the power to alter human nature? If so, how should we exercise this power? The course examines the science and ethics of stem cell research, human cloning, sex selection, genetic engineering, eugenics, genetic discrimination, and human-animal hybrids. Readings will be drawn from literature in the areas of biology, philosophy, and public policy.
Note: May not be taken concurrently with Government 1093. May not be taken for credit if Government 1093 has already been taken. The course is open to both science and non-science concentrators. Ethical Reasoning 22 (Justice) is recommended as a background. This course, when taken for a letter grade, meets the General Education requirement for Ethical Reasoning or the Core area requirement for Moral Reasoning.

Freshman Seminar: Big Ideas

Catalog number: 85241
Nicholas Christakis and Douglas A. Melton

This course aims to introduce freshman to some of the world’s most important ideas and disciplines. It is the conceit of this course that there are precious few important ideas that have relevance beyond their specific disciplines, but it is these very ideas that form a foundation for a modern college education. A wide range of subjects will be covered, including Psychology, Economics, Biomedical Research, Linguistics, History, Cosmology, Sociology, Politics, Globalization, Statistics and more. Within each topic, we will discuss current, innovative ideas in the field, dissect them, and look at how they affect not only the world-at-large, but us as individuals as well. What do findings in demography have to say about our planet’s future? How is linguistics a window to understanding the brain? What is the science behind happiness? The course is designed to give students an introduction to a variety of concentrations in a way that allows them to explore unfamiliar territory and ask leading questions, and look at a variety of subjects in a new light, before choosing any pre-determined field to study in college. Each of the lectures will be presented by scholars from top institutions using the Internet as the “textbook.” Students will meet weekly to discuss/debate each topic with the professor.

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