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Diabetologia. 2016 Oct;59(10):2047-57. doi: 10.1007/s00125-016-4059-4. Epub 2016 Jul 29.

The quest to make fully functional human pancreatic beta cells from embryonic stem cells: climbing a mountain in the clouds.

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Diabetes Research Group, Life Sciences Institute, Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, University of British Columbia, 5358-2350 Health Sciences Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z3.


The production of fully functional insulin-secreting cells to treat diabetes is a major goal of regenerative medicine. In this article, I review progress towards this goal over the last 15 years from the perspective of a beta cell biologist. I describe the current state-of-the-art, and speculate on the general approaches that will be required to identify and achieve our ultimate goal of producing functional beta cells. The need for deeper phenotyping of heterogeneous cultures of stem cell derived islet-like cells in parallel with a better understanding of the heterogeneity of the target cell type(s) is emphasised. This deep phenotyping should include high-throughput single-cell analysis, as well as comprehensive 'omics technologies to provide unbiased characterisation of cell products and human beta cells. There are justified calls for more detailed and well-powered studies of primary human pancreatic beta cell physiology, and I propose online databases of standardised human beta cell responses to physiological stimuli, including both functional and metabolomic/proteomic/transcriptomic profiles. With a concerted, community-wide effort, including both basic and applied scientists, beta cell replacement will become a clinical reality for patients with diabetes.


Embryonic stem cells; Glucose-stimulated insulin release; Human pancreatic islet beta cells; Review

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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