Danish researchers believe they have found a better way to grow out pancreatic cells, according to a new study out of the University of Copenhagen. Professor Anne Grapin-Botton and her team at the Danish Stem Cell Centre report that they have successfully grown 40,000 pancreatic mice cells in a tree-like cluster from just a handful of initial cells.
It’s a big leap forward from previous attempts to grow out pancreatic cells, and the researchers achieved it by thinking three-dimensionally. Pancreatic cells need company to grow well, and they weren’t as happy growing in flat mediums. Instead, the researchers created a three-dimensional growing medium and the cells divided rapidly within a week. Soon, they were differentiating themselves into insulin-like hormones and digestive enzymes and self-organizing into branched pancreatic organoids. (An organoid is a cell-structure that resembles an organ and can mimic some organ functions.)
Advances in pancreatic cell growth can help speed up testing for new drugs and treatments to combat diabetes. Scientists hope to be able to skip the animal testing step of drug development, but they would need a reliable way to grow human cells to do that.
Ideally, it would be wonderful to grow a fresh pancreas from a handful of cells, but so far the ability to do that remains more science fiction than science. More immediately, scientists want to grow sufficient quantities of beta cells to replace those killed off in the bodies of people with diabetes. Until recently, however, it’s proven hard to grow enough beta cells in the lab. Professor Grapin-Botton and other researchers hope that 3-D cell growth will play a pivotal role in boosting beta cell production in the lab, which might someday help beta cell production in the body.
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