Harvard, Joslin, and Brigham and Women’s Are Teaming Up to Cure Diabetes

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Semma Therapeutics are on board as well.

Human stem cell photo provided.

Stem cell photo courtesy of the Melton Lab.

The Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and Joslin Diabetes Center (JDC) are joining forces to achieve a lofty goal: finding a cure for diabetes.

The three organizations designed the Boston Autologous Islet Replacement Program (BAIRT), a stem-cell research initiative that will hopefully use its findings to end diabetes. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Semma Therapeutics are involved as well, helping to fund and further diabetes research.

It may seem like a long shot, but BAIRT has already made progress. HSCI Co-Director Doug Melton has developed a laboratory process by which stem cells are turned into nearly unlimited numbers of beta cells, the cells that produce insulin. The team believes it may eventually be able to use Melton’s findings to replace diabetic cells with insulin-producing ones created at BAIRT.

Still, despite the immense amount of brain power behind BAIRT, it may be a while before we can translate stem cell breakthroughs into usable treatments—according to a statement, the first transplant conducted by BAIRT is likely at least three or four years away.

The collective first has to thoroughly test the safety of these cells on a small, controlled group of patients, then assess how well the treatment really works against diabetes. The multi-stage, institution-bridging process begins with HSCI, Dana-Farber, and Semma working together to fine-tune the process, while BWH and Joslin select the right group of patients to undergo testing. Then, Dana-Farber will use Semma’s technology to create the beta cells. BWH will then perform the transplant. Finally, patients will be monitored by both BWH and Joslin.

“No one institution anywhere has the expertise and technical abilities to make this kind of clinical trial possible,” Melton said in a statement. “But in the unique Harvard biomedical ecosystem we are able to bring all the necessary expertise and infrastructure to bear.”