'Organic' study of live pancreatic tissue yields new opportunities for diabetes research

This is a pancreatic islet viewed with auto-fluorescence. Credit: Alan K. Lam

An 'all-natural' method for studying pancreatic islets, the small tissues responsible for insulin production and regulation in the body, has recently been developed by researchers at the University of Toronto's Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) to try to track metabolic changes in living tissues in 'real time' and without additional chemicals or drugs.

It's an organically-minded approach that could lead to big changes in our understanding of and other diseases.

Assistant Professor Jonathon V. Rocheleau of the Institute of and (IBBME), Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology & Metabolism, and Toronto General Research Institute Affiliated Scientist, along with third-year IBBME doctoral student Alan K. Lam, devised a small microfluidic tool to carry glucose and fatty acid solutions through small channels holding live pancreatic tissues.

The tissues are then caught against a 'dam', only a fraction of a millimeter in height, which keeps them stationary while the glucose solutions flow by, making it possible for scientists to monitor metabolic activities in the tissues to the glucose solutions as they happen.

The method represents a vital paradigm shift in metabolic research.

"We've created a new opportunity for tissue studies" stated Rocheleau. "Using our techniques, we're looking at metabolism as it occurs and as naturally as possible."

Standard studies involve either non-living pancreatic tissue, or require the addition of chemicals or drugs to track changes in living tissues. Now, with this new 'all-natural' approach, tissues are kept in conditions as close to their natural processes as possible.

Researchers are then able to track changes in the tissues in a pristine, natural state by viewing mitochondrial proteins in the tissue which are illuminated by their own, natural luminescence.

"We don't need to use any drugs," added Lam, the study's lead author.

The combined techniques and their results are the subject of a cover article for the current issue of Integrative Biology. And the results so far have been eye-opening.

Within just twenty minutes of being subject to a glucose cocktail, the pancreatic tissues stopped metabolizing fat, its natural source of food during fasting, leading to a sharp metabolic change in the cells and possible toxicity.

Now that Rocheleau and his lab have tracked normal physiological responses to sugar spikes, the same imaging study can be used in diabetic tissue models, leading to a deeper understanding of the disease.

But the new, integrative approach to research also offers hope for research into other diseases. "I would love cancer researchers to be able to pick this up and use it to see how cells change their metabolism," said Rocheleau.

"This method is absolutely translatable to other diseases," Lam added.

Related Stories

Engineer builds tissue models to study diseases

May 12, 2011

Shelly Peyton, a chemical engineer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is building working models of human bone, breast, liver and artery tissues to see how cells behave when they are affected by a ...

Pressure testing tiny cell samples

May 25, 2010

A collaboration of French and Canadian researchers have found that sucking a portion of a spherical globule of cells into a tiny pipette provides information about the adhesion between cells and the elastic ...

Metabolic shift may offer early cancer clue

Jul 05, 2011

Cancer cells are well known for their altered metabolisms, which may help them generate the energy they need for rapid growth. Using an emerging imaging technology, researchers reporting in the July Cell Metabolism, a Cell ...

Giraffes are living proof that cells' pressure matters

Jul 03, 2012

Physicists from the Curie Institute, France, explored the relative impact of the mechanical pressure induced by dividing cells in biological tissues. This approach complements traditional studies on genetic and biochemical ...

Recommended for you

Growing a blood vessel in a week

Oct 24, 2014

The technology for creating new tissues from stem cells has taken a giant leap forward. Three tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown ...

Testing time for stem cells

Oct 24, 2014

DefiniGEN is one of the first commercial opportunities to arise from Cambridge's expertise in stem cell research. Here, we look at some of the fundamental research that enables it to supply liver and pancreatic ...

Team finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia

Oct 23, 2014

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause ...

Rapid test to diagnose severe sepsis

Oct 23, 2014

A new test, developed by University of British Columbia researchers, could help physicians predict within an hour if a patient will develop severe sepsis so they can begin treatment immediately.

User comments