Pancreas Cells have Ability to Regenerate

Specialized cells in the pancreas can regenerate, according to a series of studies from Vanderbilt University.

Insulin-secreting beta cells in the pancreas have the ability to regenerate, according to a series of studies published by researchers at Vanderbilt University.

Over the past 3 months, the researchers have published 4 papers detailing their discovery. Insulin-secreting beta-cells and glucagon-secreting alpha cells, which are among 4 types of cells in the islets of the pancreas, are important hormones in regulating blood glucose levels and ensuring glucose reaches to other body parts.

In their most recent study published in Cell Metabolism, the researchers concluded that pancreas cells, which either get killed or become dysfunctional in diabetes, have the ability to regenerate. This finding “provides clues to how we might learn what signals promote beta-cell regeneration in type 1 and type 2 diabetes,” said Alvin Powers, MD, senior author of the paper and director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center.

The other studies — 2 of which were published in Diabetes and another in Development — detail scientific findings on islet vascularization and innervation. First, the scientists learned vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A) is a factor in islets’ blood supply, in addition to beat-cell proliferation. In mice models, blocking VEGF-A reduced beta-cell mass and insulin release, as well as impaired glucose clearance from the bloodstream.

Other studies concluded that VEGF cells promote beta-cell growth, but too much VEFG-A can lead to beta-cell death. However, a regenerative microenvironment exists where interaction of vascular endothelial cells and microphages leads to beta-cell proliferation.