Creating “Super Islets"
Currently, islet cells used for transplantation come from the pancreases of deceased donors. But there are too few organs to meet the demand. So, the DRI and collaborators are trying to generate more islet cells from fewer organs.
A recent discovery in “defective” islets is providing a novel approach to expand or regenerate islets. We are working with DRI Federation partner Dr. Antonio Cuesta‐Muñoz, from Malaga, Spain. Dr. Cuesta‐Muñoz is a world‐renowned expert in Glucokinase (GK) research.
GK is known as the “glucose sensor” of the islet cells. It instructs the cells to secrete more, or less, insulin – depending on the concentration of sugar in the blood. In rare cases, GK molecules instruct the cells to make and release insulin even when blood sugar levels are low, causing hypoglycemia. But, when harnessed for good, these cells could release so much insulin it would take far fewer cells to maintain normal blood sugars – two to five percent of the normal amount of islets. Plus, they safely replicate, increasing the number of insulin‐producing cells.
These findings, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, demonstrate the enormous potential to harness the specific GK mutations to produce “super islets” as a method to induce islet regeneration – the natural re‐growth of insulin‐producing cells.
Together with DRI Federation partners in Málaga, Spain, the DRI is studying a certain mutation that results in "super islets" (left), which are larger and produce significantly more insulin than normal islets (right).