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Cell Conversion 

Turning Other Cell Types into Insulin‐Producing Cells

When working with stem cells, scientists take a cell at its earliest stages of development – and push it down a long path, to become an islet‐type cell. Converting cells could offer a short cut. With this approach, scientists take a more mature cell type and "convert" it, turning it into an insulin‐producing cell.

Using "the rest" of the pancreas

To accomplish this, the DRI has been focusing on the “acinar” (or exocrine) tissue of the pancreas. Acinar cells make up almost 98 percent of the organ. They do not produce insulin; rather, they help process food by producing digestive enzymes. One of the interesting features of this tissue is its ability to be stimulated to become insulin-producing cells.

Typically, scientists have discarded acinar tissue after they have isolated and removed islets cells from a pancreas. Now, the DRI's Drs. Juan Dominguez-Bendala and Ricardo Pastori and their teams are successfully converting human acinar tissue into insulin-secreting cells. 

Over the last year, the researchers have made progress in identifying one single molecule that is able to convert the exocrine part of the pancreas into endocrine cells that make insulin. The DRI team is the first research group in the world that has achieved this without the use of genetic manipulation, a more aggressive approach. In addition, the molecule tested is already in clinical use for other conditions, which will speed the translation of this discovery to patients. 

The DRI BioHub mini organ mimics the native pancreas
Learn more about the development of the BioHub mini organ to restore natural insulin production in those living with diabetes.
Watch the BioHub video>>

Drs. Ricardo Pastori (left) and Juan Dominguez-Bendala collaborate in efforts to transform cell function.

DRI researchers have converted nonendocrine pancreatic cells to become insulin-producing cells
Non-endocrine pancreatic tissue "converted" into insulin-producing cells (green).


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