Pancreatic islets, also called islets of Langerhans, are groups of cells present in pancreas named after the the German physician Paul Langerhans, who first described them in 1869. The normal human pancreas contains about one million islets. Pancreas plays an essential role in converting the food into fuel for the body’s cells. The cells of pancreas known as islets contain several types of cells such as alpha, beta and delta cells. Out of these cells, beta cells are of utmost importance that makes the hormone insulin which controls our metabolic processes and blood glucose levels.
The role of Islet in Diabetes research
The prevalence of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus is rising globally and increasing burden to the healthcare systems and society. Researchers worldwide are putting their great efforts to understand the cellular biology of the pancreas and in developing therapeutic options to cure diabetes.
Islets are important to understand Diabetes: The islets of Langerhans regulate nutrient metabolism via secretion of hormones such as insulin, glucagon and somatostatin. The islet failure either by destruction and/or dysfunction is the major cause underlying for diabetes. The pancreatic islets derived from healthy human and diabetic persons are being used to study islet development, endocrine cell stimulus–secretion coupling, gene expression etc.
Islets transplantation can be alternative to pancreas transplant: Islets are being studied in detail for transplantation to restore beta cell function in diabetes, offering an alternative to complete pancreas transplantation or an artificial pancreas. Because in type 1 diabetes, the beta cells in the islets of Langerhans are selectively destroyed by an autoimmune process, islet transplantation can be a promising treatment modality of restoring physiological beta cell function in type1 diabetic patients.
Over the past two decades, increased availability of human islets for research has enabled exciting advancements in our understanding of human islet biology. The use of human pancreatic islets will serve as a gold standard for the assessment of beta-cell function in the future, as clinical research advances toward a cure for diabetes.