The Islets of Langerhans are clusters of cells in the pancreas that contain the body’s insulin-producing beta cells. There are more than one million islets in a pancreas, yet they comprise a mere 1 – 2% of the mass of the whole organ. Diabetes occurs when these cells no longer produce, or become resistant to, insulin. Replacing the islets could free a person of diabetes – if science could find a way to transplant the fragile and complex islets. and have them survive.
After many years of research, human islet transplant trials are underway at a handful of centers around the world, and so far, the results are very exciting. Yet we are faced with daunting challenges: there are simply not enough donated human pancreases (from which islets are extracted) to help even 1% of the diabetic population. Researchers are working on creating alternative sources of cells. while others are developing ways to regenerate a person’s own islets.