Pancreatic islet regeneration: Therapeutic potential, unknowns and controversy

  • Ingrid L. Cockburn Division of Endocrinology, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Tygerberg, South Africa
  • William F. Ferris Division of Endocrinology, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Tygerberg, South Africa
Keywords: diabetes, islets of Langerhans, β-cells, neogenesis, transdifferentiation

Abstract

Glucose homeostasis in mammals is primarily maintained by the insulin-secreting β-cells contained within pancreas-resident islets of Langerhans. Gross disruption of this glucose regulation as a result of pancreatic dysfunction frequently results in diabetes, which is currently a major health concern in South Africa, as well as globally. For many years, researchers have realised that the pancreas, and specifically the islets of Langerhans, have a regenerative capacity, as islet mass has frequently been shown to increase following induced pancreatic injury. Given that gross β-cell loss contributes significantly to the pathogenesis of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, endogenous pancreatic islet regeneration has been investigated extensively as a potential β-cell replacement therapy for diabetes. From the extensive research conducted on pancreatic regeneration, opposing findings and opinions have arisen as to how, and more recently even if, pancreatic regeneration occurs following induced injury. In this review, we outline and discuss the three primary mechanisms by which pancreatic regeneration is proposed to occur: neogenesis, β-cell replication and transdifferentiation. We further explain some of the advanced techniques used in pancreatic regeneration research, and conclude that despite the technologically advanced research tools available to researchers today, the mechanisms governing pancreatic regeneration may remain elusive until more powerful techniques are developed to allow for real-time, live-cell assessment of morphology and gene expression within the pancreas.

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Published
2015-07-27