November 30, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

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.





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