The Melton Lab in 2018. Image courtesy of Yi Yu.

Applying developmental biology to understand and change the course of diabetes

Our goal is to change the lives of diabetes patients and their families.

Our research aims to eliminate the present practice of regular blood checks and insulin injections, replacing them with insulin-producing cell transplants. That means finding new ways to produce and transplant pancreatic beta cells, which measure glucose levels and secrete just the right amount of insulin, and ensure they can evade attack by the immune system.

Areas of Investigation

Microscopy image of two beta cells, purple with blue and yellow dots

In vitro generation of stem-cell-derived beta cells

We have developed methods to make hundreds of millions of functional beta cells from human stem cells (ES or iPS cells). This allows us to pursue research that will lead to new treatments – or even a cure – for Type 1 diabetes. Currently, we are expanding on this work to study how one could make all the islet endocrine cells, including alpha (glucagon-producing) and delta (somatostatin-producing) cells, and produce islet-like clusters that allow us to carry out metabolic studies on islet function.
Beta cells: red and blue against a black background

Immune modeling of Type I diabetes

We use induced-pluripotent stem (iPS) cells derived from diabetes patients to explore the root cause(s) of the disease. We create clusters of islet cells to study both diabetic islet biology and the cellular and genetic basis of the autoimmune attack in Type 1 diabetes.
Microscopy image of three beta cells: green, purple, red dots against a black background

Engineering protection of beta cells from the immune system

By genetically modifying stem cells, the starting material for islet clusters, we aim to gain more complete control of in vitro differentiation by altering genes that determine cell fates. In collaboration with bioengineers, we explore physical protection following transplantation. We also genetically alter the islet cells so as to blunt or avoid an immune attack.
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