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Harnessing the Potential of Stem Cells for New Medicines

By Charles Tiu

When we think about what inspires us to pursue our passions, we may think of wise words of a mentor, a loved one suffering from a chronic illness, or the friend who gave us a helping hand when we most needed it.  For Dr. Doug Melton, a stem cell scientist, he found inspiration when his son was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 6.  Since then, he has been on a quest to cure it.

“From diabetes to diseases of the nervous system in the brain – stem cells offer a great new hope for finding new drugs and treating those people… I don’t think we should be resigned to… deal with diseases the way we deal with them now.”

Through Dr. Melton’s work, he is creating a world where laboratories everywhere in the world interested in curing a disease can use stem cells to create copies of a patient’s defective cells to study the disease and search for a treatment.  “Let’s get rid of as much human disease as we can,” he says.  By creating a duplicate of the cells instead of taking them directly from a patient, patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, for example, wouldn’t have to donate a portion of the brain, and laboratories from North America to China can gain greater access to defective cells for research.  It’s not immortality, per se, but “I don’t see why we can’t enjoy longer and healthier lives,” says Dr. Melton.

When asked what’s next, Melton returns to the core of his inspiration – his children. Melton hopes to use an implantable device with a “teabag” that will squirt insulin into the human body based on the body’s current glucose levels.  This way, patients will no longer need to inject themselves three times a day. Instead, they only need to visit a clinic once a year or three times a year for a teabag replacement, thus allowing the patient to go on with as close to a normal life as possible.