An eye into islet cells

To keep our blood sugar levels in the healthy range, our bodies are equipped with “mini factories”—clusters of specialised cells in the pancreas called islets of Langerhans. These insulin producing cells are fragile and tend to degenerate from long-term overwork.

Using a novel primate model where islets are transplanted into the anterior chamber of the eye, scientists from NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden were able to track the inner workings of the islets in real time and at single-cell resolution.

“Using the eye as a natural window to look into the functioning of the islets, we observed that the islets in primates channel blood flow very specifically,” says lead author Prof Per-Olof Berggren.

“Our findings suggest a mechanism whereby the islets respond to metabolic demands—the need to balance blood sugar levels—and precisely divert blood flow to areas of active hormone-producing cell clusters within the islet without flooding the whole islet.”

While more research is needed to fully understand the impact of this gated blood flow on islet function, the researchers speculate that the information could be used to help preserve the function of islets in people with type 2 diabetes.

The study “Pancreatic islet blood flow dynamics in primates” can be found in Cell Reports (2017), DOI: 10.1016/j. celrep.2017.07.039.
This article appeared first in NTU’s research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #13, June 2018).

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