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Home » Harnessing the Potential of Stem Cells for New Medicines: Doug Melton at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

Harnessing the Potential of Stem Cells for New Medicines: Doug Melton at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

Doug Melton – Professor at Harvard University: Thanks, John. I’m delighted to be here today to talk about my favorite cell: the stem cell. That might be a funny thing to say.

Most people have a favorite animal or a favorite color. I actually have a favorite cell, because this cell has two amazing properties: it can make more of itself, it can renew indefinitely and it can also make any of the cells in your body. As you know, all your tissues and organs are made up of cells. And so, here we have a cell that can make anything in your body.

I’m going to tell you in the next 10 minutes that this is the beginning of a revolution in Biomedicine, not unlike the revolution the transistor caused in electronics. Most all of you have a cellphone and use a computer. Those wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for a transistor. Before transistors, there were vacuum tubes. This cell, which we now can gain some mastery over, will change the way you think about making and maintaining human beings and fighting disease.

Now, I could talk about this in a number of contexts for lots of diseases, but I’m going to pick one. Today I’m going to talk about diabetes. I’ll come back to other diseases but I want to share with you the idea that we could create a world which got rid of diabetes. There are two kinds of diabetes, known to most people. The one which you’re reading about all the time in the newspaper now is related to excess food, lack of exercise, obesity. It’s called type 2 diabetes. And many type 2 diabetics require insulin, but not all. Some take a pill which makes them more sensitive to insulin.

The kind of diabetes I want to talk about is the one that affects children, called juvenile or type 1 diabetes. I have pictures here you see, where these children have to test their blood to know how much sugar is in it, 3 to 5 times a day, and then inject themselves with a needle or with an insulin pump, to provide insulin which is life saving.

Without the insulin, of course, people wouldn’t survive, and you need the insulin to make use of the food you eat. We’ve enjoyed, as John has just reminded us, a nice lunch, with care of Summer Shack. Well, as you’re sitting here, and your body is digesting that food and turn it into sugar, your brain and the rest of your tissues can’t make use of that without this hormone insulin.

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