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What are Islet Cells?

The Islets of Langerhans

The Islets of Langerhans are commonly referred to as "islets" (pronounced "EYE-lets"). Islets actually are clusters of cells, with each "islet" containing 3,000 to 4,000 cells.

Scientists estimate there are 1 million islets in a healthy, adult pancreas. They make up only 1 to 2 percent of the entire organ.

Within each islet are several types of cells, which work together to regulate blood sugar. One cell type is the beta cell. Beta cells sense sugar in the blood and release the necessary amount of insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels. 

The immune system mistakenly sees beta cells as "potential danger" and destroys them, causing type 1 diabetes.

The loss of these cells means the body can no longer produce insulin, the hormone required to convert food into energy for the body’s cells.  Although insulin-producing islet cells cease to function in persons with diabetes, the remaining 98 percent of the pancreas continues to function normally, producing digestive enzymes.

Here at the DRI, we’re focused on restoring natural insulin production to normalize blood sugar control. One key strategy is islet transplantation -- taking healthy islets from a donor pancreas and transplanting them into patients with diabetes.

We’ve already demonstrated that transplanted islets can function for more than 12 years. Much of our research is now aimed at increasing the supply of islet cells available for transplantation, to find the optimal site for transplantation, as well as eliminating the need for anti-rejection drugs


Islets are clusters of cells scattered throughout the pancreas, which include cells that sense sugar in the blood.

Learn how islet cells are isolated from the pancreas - an innovation developed by DRI Director Dr. Camillo Ricordi

Do you know how islet cells are isolated from the pancreas? View this video about the innovative method developed by DRI Director Dr. Camillo Ricordi that makes islet cell transplantation possible.

Islets Cells also called Islets of Langerhans Cells
Islets of Langerhans are made of four different cell types. The majority are insulin-producing beta cells (shown in green) and glucagon-producing alpha cells (shown in red). The blue color is a marker used to locate the nucleus of the cells. Using Laser Scanning Cytometry (LSC), DRI scientists can study the physiology of the basic islet components to assess their viability before transplantation.

 

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