Image of the Day: Cellular Destiny

Progenitor cells in the pancreas of humans get developmental cues from proteins in their environment.

Carolyn Wilke
Dec 11, 2018
An embryonic pancreatic bud that was grown ex vivo from human cells


esearchers have cracked the code that guides immature human pancreatic cells to their destiny. The results of this study, published in Nature on November 28, could help scientists direct stem cells to grow into the insulin-producing ones for potential use in replacement therapy for type 1 diabetes.

The researchers attached pancreatic progenitor cells, which are similar to stem cells but have a limited capacity to replicate, to a glass slide that was covered in different types of proteins. They could then watch how the cells reacted to the proteins without the interference of neighbor cells. They also observed mechanical force changes inside each cell that cued its development. Specifically, the protein laminin prodded progenitor cells into becoming endocrine cells, such as the insulin-producing beta cell, by reducing their mechanical force. 

These results provide the tools “to more precisely engineer cells that are lost or damaged in severe diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases, for future cell replacement therapies,” study author Henrick Semb says in a statement.

A. Mamidi, et al., “Mechanosignalling via integrins directs fate decisions of pancreatic progenitors,” Naturedoi:10.1038/s41586-018-0762-2, 2018.