Tracking the differentiation fate of islets from pancreatic endocrine progenitors via expression of lentivirally transduced fluorescent reporter genes

The recent success of a pancreatic islet cell transplantation procedure known as the ‘Edmonton Protocol’ gave new hope for a better treatment of type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent diabetes), compared to the current treatment via insulin therapy. However, a shortage of donor pancreatic tissue means an alternate source of transplantable cells is needed. Insulin-producing islet cells are created from pancreatic precursor cells through a process called differentiation. However, not all pancreatic precursor cells give rise to insulin-producing islet cells. Further, the optimal conditions for differentiating these cells have not been determined. This poses a challenge for researchers attempting to identify and isolate the specific precursor cells needed for producing transplantable islet cells on a large scale in the laboratory. Marta Szabat is working to develop a functional assay for tracking the differentiation fate of islets from pancreatic precursor cells using fluorescent reporter genes. This cell marking technique would flag only those cells with specific genetic characteristics, allowing for purification and further characterization of labeled cells. Using this functional assay, her long term objective is to determine the optimal conditions to support (culture) the differentiation of pancreatic progenitors into insulin-producing cells.