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Today, only life support. Tomorrow?

Posted Sep 07 2008 8:04pm

I must admit, I just haven't been around lately. It sometimes takes quite a lot for me to become inspired. In truth, there is always something happening out there in the diabetes atmosphere, but often it smacks of endless chatter about the world's destiny with diabetes or how all pharma's are jumping on the diabetes bandwagon. Too obvious. Old news.

I came across Douglas Melton in my Google Alerts folder; with 467 diabetes alerts to review, a quotation from Melton was hard to spot but got me excited. The greatest impact of the digital age is this - that I can become transfixed immediately with a few words and build a story!

"Insulin is not a cure for diabetes, It is merely life support."

Melton gets it. So few do. He told this to a Senate Hearing Committee on Stem Cell Research. He runs the Stem Cell Research Institute at Harvard. He is an academic, so he is credible, not whiny. Oh, and he has two children with Type 1. Douglas Melton is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, and co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Melton and Kevin Eggan, an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard, are using SCNT to study Type 1 diabetes. The process, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), produces disease-specific stem cell lines. Melton's work has had an impact on medicine. He has been instrumental in forming collaborations bringing together key researchers and pushing the limits of biomedical exploration.
He is a visionary.
"As for what's being envisioned, a significant number of diseases are caused by cell defects or deficiencies including all neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. So if you take that on one hand a particular cell type is defective or deficient and on the other hand that stem cells can make other types of cells, it's not difficult to envision the use of stem cells to treat these cellular deficiencies."

What I love about this story is this:

It is about a dream, in action. Stem cells may play a critical role as a link to restoring various specialized cells which in turn has the potential to wipe out diabetes, other diseases, and disorders.
It is all about overcoming barriers with positive action and communication. Morality? Is it immoral not to seize an opportunity that would reduce disease and suffering? Keep your logic simple.
"I think its difficult to justify on ethical grounds the failure to help treat persons who are suffering from such diseases... If anything, I think there is only an ethically compelling argument to conduct such research and to make those therapies possible to treat those people."
It is not a case of right versus wrong. A winner will never emerge from Science vs. Religion. It is all about education, and intelligent decisions - nationally/globally.
On the subject of the Bush administration federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research funding and the general confusion as to what that policy entails, Melton noted, "I think the main reason it's confusing to people is because the policy is a political compromise and not an ethical compromise. What it says is that embryonic stem cells in existence before August 2001 – which was when the Bush administration established a position on embryonic stem cell research – can be studied with federal funds. Any cell line made after August 2001, however was unethical."
I rarely focus so solely and intensely on T1, but it is the passion of this story and the dream. It is pioneers like Melton who keep a steady eye on our future and those, who will somehow genetically, follow us.
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