Lab grown pancreatic cells could help diabetic testing

by Barbara Hewitt on October 22, 2013

An international team of researchers have successfully developed an innovative 3D method to grow miniature pancreas from stem cells which could lead to safe and fast ways of testing new treatments for diabetes.

Professor Anne Grapin-Botton and her team at the Danish Stem Cell Centre at the University of Copenhagen have developed a three dimensional culture method which enables the efficient expansion of pancreatic cells.


Researchers have developed a 3D method which enables the efficient expansion of pancreatic cells

The new method allows the cell material from mice to grow vividly in picturesque tree-like structures with the future goal to use this model to help in the fight against diabetes.

‘The new method allows the cell material to take a three dimensional shape enabling them to multiply more freely. It’s like a plant where you use effective fertilizer, think of the laboratory like a garden and the scientist being the gardener,’ said Grapin-Botton.

The method offers huge long term potential in producing miniature human pancreas from human stem cells. These miniature organs would be valuable as models to test new drugs quickly and effectively and without the use of animal models.

‘After growing a lot, they transform into cells that make either digestive enzymes or hormones like insulin and they self-organize into branched pancreatic organoids that are amazingly similar to the pancreas,’ she added.

She explained that the cells do not thrive and develop if they are alone, and a minimum of four pancreatic cells close together is required for subsequent organoid development.

‘We found that the cells of the pancreas develop better in a gel in three dimensions than when they are attached and flattened at the bottom of a culture plate. Under optimal conditions, the initial clusters of a few cells have proliferated into 40,000 cells within a week,’ she pointed out.

The scientists used this system to discover that the cells of the pancreas are sensitive to their physical environment such as the stiffness of the gel and contact with other cells.

An effective cellular therapy for diabetes is dependent on the production of sufficient quantities of functional beta cells. Recent studies have enabled the production of pancreatic precursors but efforts to expand these cells and differentiate them into insulin producing beta cells have proved a challenge.

‘We think this is an important step towards the production of cells for diabetes therapy, both to produce mini organs for drug testing and insulin producing cells as spare parts. We show that the pancreatic cells care not only about how you feed them but need to be grown in the right physical environment. We are now trying to adapt this method to human stem cells,’ said Grapin-Botton.

Meanwhile, a team from Harvard Medical School in Boston, United States, has been using light to heal diabetes in mice. They have designed an implantable gel that contains genetically modified light sensitive cells.

To control diabetes, the team shone light into the mouse and at the implanted gel using a fibre optic cable attached to its head. The light triggered cells in the gel to produce a compound that stimulated the secretion of insulin and stabilised blood glucose levels.

The team now plans to work on making the gel more user friendly by adding, for example, a micro LED with a wireless power receiver to the gel implant.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: