September 26, 2008

Discovery Lecture series kicks off with Harvard’s Melton

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Stem cell research expert Douglas Melton, Ph.D., of Harvard, will deliver the fall’s first Discovery Lecture, on Thursday, Oct. 2.

Discovery Lecture series kicks off with Harvard’s Melton

One of the world's leading experts on stem cell research, Douglas Melton, Ph.D., will deliver this fall's first Discovery Lecture on Oct. 2.

Melton, professor of Natural Sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator at Harvard University, will speak at 4 p.m. in 208 Light Hall.

His lecture, entitled “Making pancreatic beta cells for diabetics,” is sponsored by the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center.

Melton, who earned his doctorate in Molecular Biology from Cambridge University, began studying stem cells after his infant son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1993. His daughter was diagnosed with the disease several years later.

He co-directs the privately funded Harvard Stem Cell Institute, established in 2004 after President Bush limited federal funding of research involving human embryonic stem cells.

The Harvard group has identified several hundred genes that are likely to be involved in steering the development of stem cells into specialized cells. The researchers also have explored ways to “re-program” adult cells into other types of cells that could possibly be used to reverse diseases like diabetes.

Last month in the journal Nature, Melton and his colleagues reported that they had identified three crucial molecular switches in mice that, when flipped, converted one type of a pancreas cell into an insulin-secreting cell.

Melton told the Washington Post last month that he had started experimenting with human cells. “I would say within five years, we could be ready to start human trials,” he told the newspaper.

For an update on related research going on at Vanderbilt Medical Center, check out the latest issue of Lens magazine at

For a complete schedule of the Discovery Lecture Series and archived video of previous lectures, go to