Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009

Doug Melton

It takes courage to break unknown ground and accomplish something no one else had ever contemplated. Douglas Melton, 55, displayed that courage when he took his concern for his own diabetic children and applied it to a controversial area of science — stem cells — that could benefit all of us.

It is fortunate that Melton, a molecular biologist at Harvard University, already had the research skills to tackle the complex condition that afflicts his son and daughter. He had been studying the cell structures of frogs and mice — both ideal animal models for conducting cellular research. His genius in this area led to the creation of new stem-cell lines that could one day replace the malfunctioning pancreatic cells that lead to diabetes. More important, his methods sidestep all the debates about embryonic research because the cells don't start out as embryos at all, but rather as adult skin cells.

The potential benefits of Melton's work by no means stop with diabetes. Through his research, adult cells may one day be transformed into a variety of tissues to replace other human cells that no longer function. One application is well under way, with stem cells being developed that could replace the dopamine-producing brain cells in Parkinson's patients. It's not too much of a stretch to say Parkinson's could be cured someday — and that Melton's research could be what does it.

Some would say Providence played a hand in the circumstances that led Melton down this trailblazing path. But whatever the reason or circumstances, it is Melton's will and perseverance that allow him to make great strides in his field — benefiting not just us, but also generations to come.

Hatch, a Republican Senator from Utah, backed federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research

Fast Fact: During the stem-cell-funding ban, Melton gave free cell lines to labs that needed them