Scientists have succeeded in growing stem cells that have the ability to develop into two different types of cells that make up a healthy pancreas. The research team led by Dr. Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute, The Netherlands, have isolated and grown stem cells from the pancreases of mice using a 3-D culture system previously developed by the scientists. The results, which are reported in The EMBO Journal, could eventually lead to ways to repair damaged insulin-producing beta cells or pancreatic duct cells.
Cell signalling molecules known as Wnts and a protein called Lgr5 are essential to produce adult stem cells that can be coaxed to grow and divide rapidly. However, these signaling pathways and molecules are inactive in the adult pancreas. "We have found a way to activate the Wnt pathway to produce an unlimited expansion of pancreatic stem cells isolated from mice," Clevers said. "By changing the growth conditions we can select two different fates for the stem cells and generate large numbers of either hormone-producing beta cells or pancreatic duct cells." He added: "This work is still at a very early stage and further experiments are needed before we can use such an approach for the culture of human cells but the results are a promising proof-of-concept."