A novel stem cell model for human islet development and cytoarchitecture

The cultivation of stem cells to insulin-producing beta cells offers an unlimited source of transplantable material for diabetes treatment. However, currently manufactured beta cells do not function precisely like the healthy ones in our bodies. Human islets are cell clusters mainly comprised of a mix of endocrine cell types, and interactions among them are critical in controlling insulin secretion. However, this point has been overlooked by current manufacturing methods that typically attempt to make clusters enriched only for beta cells. The absence of other islet cell types may therefore be a leading cause of the failure to obtain properly regulated insulin production. We recently developed a method to coax stem cells into islet clusters that are enriched for major endocrine cell types. Interestingly, these islets formed through an essential but unidentified “budding process” and self-organized into distinct cellular arrangements over time. Our goal is to elucidate the mechanisms that regulate islet formation, including the ways in which the cells assemble and impact islet function. Success could facilitate methods to manufacture islet cells with more robust insulin production and guide cell replacement strategies for diabetes.