Insulin-secreting pancreatic β-cells are essential regulators of mammalian metabolism. The absence of functional β-cells leads to hyperglycemia and diabetes, making patients dependent on exogenously supplied insulin. Recent insights into β-cell development, combined with the discovery of pluripotent stem cells, have led to an unprecedented opportunity to generate new β-cells for transplantation therapy and drug screening. Progress has also been made in converting terminally differentiated cell types into β-cells using transcriptional regulators identified as key players in normal development, and in identifying conditions that induce β-cell replication in vivo and in vitro. Here, we summarize what is currently known about how these strategies could be utilized to generate new β-cells and highlight how further study into the mechanisms governing later stages of differentiation and the acquisition of functional capabilities could inform this effort.

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Photo of Doug Melton

Doug Melton is pursuing a cure for type 1 diabetes. His lab studies the developmental biology of the pancreas, using that information to grow and develop pancreatic cells (islets of Langerhans). In parallel, they investigate ways to protect beta cells from autoimmune attack.

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