Elusive Pancreatic Progenitor Cells Found in Mice

Researchers at the JDRF Center for Beta Cell Therapy in Diabetes, in Brussels, Belgium, identified a bona fide pancreatic progenitor cell in mice that has the capacity to generate new insulin-producing beta cells. The discovery, led by Harry Heimberg and published in the journal Cell, demonstrates the existence of this elusive cell and underscores the potential of beta cell regeneration as a cure for type 1 diabetes. Heimberg’s team was able to
activate the beta cell progenitors by tying off a duct that drains digestive enzymes from the pancreas—an event that led both to a doubling of beta cell mass in the injured part of the pancreas within two weeks and to the production of more insulin. Formation of the new beta cells was dependent on the activity of Neurogenin 3, a master gene also expressed in embryonic progenitor cells. Importantly, the new beta cells proved to be glucose-responsive.