Melton’s vision was to use stem cells to recreate the beta cells, deep within the pancreas, which have been destroyed by the malfunctioning immune system. He explains: “A continuous glucose monitor reads blood sugars about every five to 15 minutes. The pancreatic beta cells that we put in the patients read blood sugar every millisecond. They also squirt out just a tiny amount of insulin, just the right amount, rather than the large dose that is given out by a pump. My own view is that the biological solution, nature’s solution, is better long-term.”
Even if the trials are successful, however, there is a key challenge to overcome. The immune system is likely to attack the new beta cells, in the same way that they attacked the originals. To this end Shelton — and the other patients given the stem-cell treatment — will have to take immunosuppressant drugs. Melton admits this is hardly ideal during a pandemic.