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Harvard Stem Cell Institute receives grant from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince

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The Harvard Stem Cell Institute has been offered a financial grant by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed to help advance research on Type 1 Diabetes, a statement released on Tuesday revealed.

Around 422 million people across the world are diabetic and 1.6 million deaths are directly attributed to diabetes per year, according to the World Health Organization.

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Meanwhile, numbers of cases and the prevalence of the disease have been steadily increasing over the past few decades.

Mohammed bin Zayed’s global health initiative, Reaching the Last Mile, aims to fund research to end diseases and strengthen healthcare systems.

To encourage progress in the disease elimination space, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s initiative supports the development and advancement of innovative research and technology. This commitment is highlighted in the grant it has offered to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

“In the United Arab Emirates, we strongly believe in the value of collaboration and advancement. This commitment to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute is an opportunity to join their mission to develop breakthrough advances in medicine,” Sheikh Theyab bin Mohammed bin Zayed, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, said.

“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,” he added.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the absence of insulin-producing beta cells which are destroyed by the immune system itself through mechanisms that remain unknown.

While patients can often manage diabetes, thanks to modern medicine, there still is no cure for the disease.

The new milestone project funded by Sheikh Mohammed will be making beta cells that evade elimination by the immune system. Further milestones include identifying immune cells that are responsible for rejecting transplanted stem cell-derived beta cells, which will enable researchers to identify the immune cells that start and continue the immune attack. Once identified, they will then be able to devise ways to eliminate them and eventually model stem cell islets for human transplantation.

“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,” 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.

“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,” he added.

The research program is headlined by JDRF, a non-profit organization that funds Type 1 diabetes research, which in 2021 launched the JDRF Center of Excellence in New England, which saw the cross-institutional collaboration between leading Massachusetts-based experts.

“Beta-cell replacement therapy is at the forefront of potential cures for type 1 diabetes and a flagship program at JDRF. JDRF is appreciative of the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi's support towards the scientific efforts of the JDRF Center 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,” said Assistant Vice President of Research at JDRF Esther Latres.

To mark the launch of the new relationship, a virtual seminar was held on February 7 which highlighted what will be pursued through the grant and the value of the fellowship to the wider ecosystem.

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