Harvard’s Doug Melton Blockbuster Discovery of Hormone Betatrophin: Possible Future Diabetes Treatment?

UPDATE: Unfortunately the Betatrophin paper discussed here originally back in 2013 has now largely been proven to have come to incorrect conclusions (for more read this).

Today Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) reported the discovery, in a paper in Cell by Harvard Professor Doug Melton, of a powerful new hormone called Betatrophin that can stimulate growth of beta cells in vivo. Beta cells are the type of cell that are lost in Diabetes.

From the HSCI press release:

The hormone, called betatrophin, causes mice to produce insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells up to thirty times the normal rate. The new beta cells only produce insulin when called upon by the body, offering the potential for the natural regulation of insulin and a great reduction in the complications associated with diabetes, the leading medical cause of amputations and non-genetic loss of vision.

Of course, a big question pointed out by the team themselves is how this might work in humans including Diabetes patients:

“We’ve done the work in mice,” Melton says, “but of course we’re not interested in curing mice of diabetes, and we now know the gene is a human gene. We’ve cloned the human gene and, more over, we know that the hormone exists in human plasma; betatrophin definitely exists in human.”

“If this could be used in people,” said Melton, Harvard’s Xander University Professor and co-chair of the University’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, “it could eventually mean that instead of taking insulin injections three times a day, you might take an injection of this hormone once a week or once a month, or in the best case maybe even once a year.”

I think is a huge discovery and I would think the odds are better than 50-50 that it will work in people.

A touching part of the press release mentions how Melton showed appreciation for his postdoc Peng Yi the morning after Yi had shown Melton evidence of the breakthrough:

The following morning, when Peng Yi sat down at his lab bench, there was a formal looking, cream-colored envelope lying on the brown surface of the bench. He opened it up, and took from the envelope a handwritten note from Doug Melton. It reads:

Dear Peng, I can hardly sleep – I am so excited by your result. It’s a tribute to your hard work and hard thinking.

Can’t wait to see the data from the repeat.


How cool is that?

I can’t wait to learn more about Betatrophin.





3 thoughts on “Harvard’s Doug Melton Blockbuster Discovery of Hormone Betatrophin: Possible Future Diabetes Treatment?”

  1. Henningsen N.C.:
    The sodium pump and energy regulation: some new aspects for essential hypertension, diabetes II and severe overweight.
    Klinische Wochenschrift 63 Suppl 3:4-8. 1985.
    Abstract: “There is a growing evidence for that in modern societies the function of the cellular sodium-potassium pump (membrane-bound Na+ K+ ATPase) in several tissues in man cannot respond adequately to demands. This is not seen in any other free-living vertebrates on this earth. The clearly unphysiological very high intake of sodium-chloride (salt) and also alcohol is definitely playing an important role in the development of the common degenerating metabolic aberrations, e.g. essential hypertension, diabetes II and severe over-weight, in man. The special and overall important role of the sodium-potassium pump for optimal cellular function and regeneration with special reference to the vascular tissues is presented and discussed.”

    Thermogenesis induced by osmotic stimulation of the intestines in the rat
    Toshimasa Osaka, Akiko Kobayashi, and Shuji Inoue
    J Physiol. 2001 April 1; 532(Pt 1): 261–269.
    From the article: “The metabolic rate rose during the 10 min infusion period of 3.6 % NaCl, stayed at a plateau level of ≈205 J kg−0.75 min−1 between 35 and 120 min and then slowly declined but was still significantly higher than the baseline level at 3 h. The energy expenditure induced by 3.6 % NaCl was 3.49 ± 0.33 kJ kg−0.75 …..The RER (respiratory exchange ratio) did not change after infusion of any of the NaCl solutions…”
    Oooppsss! Anaerob glycolisis and floor gas sodium-potassium pump is not enough.
    And 9 years later: Ram K. Mathur
    Role of diabetes, hypertension, and cigarette smoking on atherosclerosis
    J Cardiovasc Dis Res. 2010 Apr-Jun; 1(2): 64–68.
    From the article: ” … The mechanism of thermogenesis is not clear….”
    :-(( Read more: http://padre.uw.hu/ekvis/entropyobesity.htm

  2. Isn’t it something of a caution that they induced the beta cell stimulation by creating profound insulin resistance in these mice? After all insulin resistance is an early indicator of impending diabetes in humans.

  3. I heard through my colleagues last year that this group was working on this…how exciting!!! I had to look it up… It is an important and targeted breakthrough, science is hard work with great minds collaborating for excellence.

    My husbands diabetes worsened after non-compliant cell clinic treatment, and because there can be no RCTs for lab conditions for obvious ethical reasons we can only make a circumstantial rather than causal link, but he went from oral meds and exercise to injectable insulin ….maybe reason 11 for caution about non-compliant clinics?

    It would be so ironic and wonderful if it was stem cells that eventually improved quality of life for him. Science and medicine done right is something to celebrate…still it may not happen in our lifetime but it is so good for those that will follow us, WELL DONE!

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