An international research team led by Professor Anne Grapin-Botton of the Danish Stem Cell Center at the University of Copenhagen has established a novel 3-D culture method to grow miniature pancreas from progenitor cells, which aims to unravel various aspects of pancreas development. The new method offers a long term potential to fight against diabetes and solves ethical issues concerning the use of animal models for drug testing.
By manipulating the 3-D culture conditions in a growth factor-depleted gelatin, the researchers were able to grow mice embryonic pancreatic progenitors. The cell materials take a 3-D shape, multiply and eventually transform into functional pancreas. This method is analogous to growing a plant using effective fertilizer. By using this new method, researchers were able to discover that the pancreatic cells are sensitive to their physical environment – one of the limitations of the conventional method of growing pancreatic cells in a culture plate. Besides, they have also observed a ‘community effect’ whereby cells develop successfully only in close proximity.
The drawback of this technique is that cells tend to self-organize to form organoids, leading to various signaling events that could interfere with any perturbation of interest.
Similar 3-D culture methods have been reportedly used in the recent times for growing miniorgans such as intestine, stomach, liver, mammary gland and prostate. This is by far the only method for generating small pancreas that possesses all the cell types organized appropriately. As a result, researchers are looking at the possibility of modeling miniature pancreas that resemble actual human pancreas as a research model for drug screening, disease modeling and for developing more effective diabetes therapies.