Abu Dhabi, 8th February, 2022 (WAM) — His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has announced a financial grant towards the Douglas Melton Laboratory at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, to bolster research focusing on accelerating gene editing approaches for pancreatic beta cell replacement therapy.
The grant comes as part of His Highness’ global health initiative “Reaching the Last Mile,” which works to end diseases and strengthen health systems. To encourage progress in the disease elimination agenda, Reaching the Last Mile supports the development of innovative research and technology.
This commitment to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute is another step in the initiative’s long-standing ethos of forging enduring relationships that work to achieve sustainable change, backed by a belief in building a future that ensures stability, promotes dignity and encourages inclusion for all.
According to the World Health Organisation, about 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, and 1.6 million deaths are directly attributed to diabetes each year. The number of cases and the prevalence of diabetes have been steadily increasing over the past few decades.
“The promising results we’ve seen with stem cell-derived islet cells could deliver a life-changing therapy for people who suffer from the relentless life-long burden of type 1 diabetes. These results were possible due to the long-term effort of students and our team at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute to convert human pluripotent stem cells into insulin-producing beta cells, hence making an inexhaustible supply of implantable cells,” said Dr. Douglas Melton, who is the Xander University Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University and the Co-Director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.
Dr. Melton continued, “The biotech industry has further advanced this work to industrialise the process and test the results in a clinical trial, , the first results from which were recently reported and are quite encouraging. The next challenge for us is to protect the transplanted beta cells from the recipient’s immune rejection. If our strategies are successful, this will lead to a future where beta cell therapy becomes the standard treatment for patients with diabetes.”
“In the UAE we strongly believe in collaboration and advancement. This commitment to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute is an opportunity to join their mission to develop breakthrough advances in medicine,” said H.H. Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court. “It is only through daring innovation that we can find new solutions to critical issues and help fulfill our commitment to advancing health and improving life for people around the globe.”
This collaboration will also provide an opening to two Emirati research fellows to join the Douglas Melton Lab, with the opportunity to take part in research and work to develop a breakthrough cure for diabetes.
Dr. Fatima Al Kaabi, Executive Director of the Abu Dhabi Bone Marrow Transplant programme at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Centre, stated, “The opportunity for two Emiratis to join the Melton Lab as research fellows will be a cultural and academic enrichment to all those involved. For the selected individuals to not only partake in this research, but also learn from the Lab and be under the sponsorship of a principal investigator will be an invaluable experience.
“We are looking forward to appointing the best individuals from our talented pool of academics, which we hope can help the team accelerate their research in finding a cure for type 1 diabetes.”
Type 1 diabetes is caused by the absence of insulin-producing beta cells, which are destroyed by the immune system through mechanisms that are still not known. While patients can manage diabetes, there is currently no cure. The first milestone project to be funded under the commitment of His Highness will be making beta cells that evade immune elimination. Further milestones include identifying the immune cells responsible for rejecting transplanted stem cell (SC)-derived beta cells, which will allow the ability to pinpoint the immune cells that start and continue the immune attack and devise ways to eliminate them, and finally, modelling SC-islets for human transplantation.
This ambitious programme will allow SC-islets to survive and function for years following transplantation into diabetics, effectively curing them of the disease.
JDRF further headlines the research programme, the leading global organisation funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research, who in 2021 launched the JDRF Centre of Excellence in New England, a cross-institutional collaboration between leading Massachusetts-based experts.
Together with strategic partners around the globe, JDRF accelerates T1D cures through initiatives that encourage collaboration, inspire innovation, leverage resources, and engage emerging talent. The JDRF Centers of Excellence elevate these efforts, serving as central pillars of JDRF’s broader strategy to pursue cures for T1D.
Esther Latres, Assistant Vice President of Research at JDRF, said, “Beta-cell replacement therapy is at the forefront of potential cures for type 1 diabetes and a flagship program at JDRF. JDRF appreciates the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi’s support towards the scientific efforts of the JDRF Centre of Excellence and Dr. Melton. We welcome the new research fellows and look forward to advancing breakthrough strategies to protect highly functional insulin-producing cells from immune rejection.”
To mark the launch of this relationship, a virtual seminar was held on 7th February 2022, highlighting the work being pursued through the grant, as well as highlighting the value of the fellowship to the wider ecosystem. The Harvard Stem Cell Institute seminar will feature Dr. Melton and representatives from HSCI and the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Centre.