Reading the pancreas through the eye: Researchers describe innovative way to study body glucose regulation

November 18, 2013
Dr Per-Olof Berggren at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden suggests an innovative method to study body glucose regulation through the eyes. The findings are published in the November 18-22, 2013 online issue of PNAS. Credit: Ulf Sirborn

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have found an innovative way to study glucose regulation in the body: by transferring the vital insulin-producing cells from the pancreas to the eye, the latter can serve as a kind of window through which health reports can be obtained from the former. The results, which are expected to have a significant impact on diabetes research, are published in scientific journal PNAS.

The endocrine part of the pancreas, the Islets of Langerhans, produces and secretes insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. After a meal, the hormone is released into the blood at an amount that is in direct proportion to the amount of food ingested; blood therefore vary from one meal to the next and between individuals. In the case of conditions such as obesity, large amounts of insulin are needed to compensate for the high consumption of food and insensitivity to the hormone.

The Islets of Langerhans try to adapt themselves to this condition by increasing the number of insulin-producing beta-cells and/or modulating their individual secretion of insulin in response to the intake of sugar. This plasticity is essential to the maintenance of normal , and its dysfunction leads to diabetes, a serious disease that has reached pandemic proportions.

The greatest obstacle to studying the exact workings of the Islets of Langerhans and how they adapt to individual conditions is their relative inaccessibility, in that they lie deeply embedded in and are distributed throughout the tissue. Now, however, researchers have found a new way to study the insulin-producing beta-cells: by transferring the Islets of Langerhans to the eye.

"What we've done is made the cells optically accessible by grafting a small number of 'reporter islets' into the eyes of mice, which allows us to monitor the activity of the pancreas just by looking into the eye," says Per-Olof Berggren, professor of experimental endocrinology at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery, and director of the Rolf Luft Research Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology. "We're now able to really study the insulin-producing beta-cells in detail in a way that wasn't possible before."

The eye may be used, as a kind of reporter reproducing the activity of the pancreas and allowing readings of the status of the pancreas under different conditions in health and disease.

"The Islets of Langerhans can be visualised repeatedly over a period of several months, and our work shows that during this time, functional and morphological changes occur in them that are identical to those occurring in the ," says first author Dr Erwin Ilegems, researcher at the Rolf Luft Centre.

Using the new monitoring system and pharmacological treatment, the researchers have reduced food consumption in obese mice models and thus stopped the enormous growth in beta-cell population. This means that they are now able to individually tweak drug doses.

"We'll also be using the system to identify new drug substances that regulate beta-cell plasticity and function," says Professor Berggren. "In the future we may also conceive a similar use of reporter islets in humans in order to find unique, tailored treatment principles, to measure the effects of personal medication, or to diagnose problems with the pancreatic ."

Explore further: New research redraws pancreas anatomy

More information: 'Reporter islets in the eye reveal plasticity of the endocrine pancreas', Erwin Ilegems, Andrea Dicker, Stephan Speier, Aarti Sharma, Alan Bahow, Patrick Karlsson Edlund, Ingo B. Leibiger, and Per-Olof Berggren, PNAS, online 18-22 November 2013.

Related Stories

New research redraws pancreas anatomy

July 6, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Research from Karolinska Institutet shows that insulin secretion in the pancreas is not under direct neural control, as has previously been thought. The few nerves that are present are connected to blood ...

Insulin signaling is distorted in pancreases of Type 2 diabetics

December 13, 2011
Insulin signaling is altered in the pancreas, a new study shows for the first time in humans. The errant signals disrupt both the number and quality of beta cells — the cells that produce insulin.

Insulin secretion disrupted by increased fatty acids

September 9, 2013
Patients with type 2 diabetes have increased levels of circulating glucose and fatty acids, which lead to disease complications. In healthy individuals, β cells within pancreatic islets release insulin in response to glucose ...

Adult stem cells could hold key to curing Type 1 diabetes

May 29, 2013
Millions of people with type 1 diabetes depend on daily insulin injections to survive. They would die without the shots because their immune system attacks the very insulin-producing cells it was designed to protect. Now, ...

Study identifies immune cells that promote growth of beta cells in type 1 diabetes

September 27, 2013
Joslin researchers have identified immune cells that promote growth of beta cells in type 1 diabetes. This study provides further evidence of a changed role for immune cells in type 1 diabetes pathology. The study appears ...

How fat could help solve part of the diabetes problem

October 29, 2013
The pancreas is a large organ that wraps around our gut, and produces the exact amount of insulin our bodies need when we eat – except when we start to develop diabetes, and insulin production slows down. Sydney scientists ...

Recommended for you

Make way for hemoglobin

August 18, 2017
Every cell in the body, whether skin or muscle or brain, starts out as a generic cell that acquires its unique characteristics after undergoing a process of specialization. Nowhere is this process more dramatic than it is ...

Two-step process leads to cell immortalization and cancer

August 17, 2017
A mutation that helps make cells immortal is critical to the development of a tumor, but new research at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that becoming immortal is a more complicated process than originally ...

New Pathology Atlas maps genes in cancer to accelerate progress in personalized medicine

August 17, 2017
A new Pathology Atlas is launched today with an analysis of all human genes in all major cancers showing the consequence of their corresponding protein levels for overall patient survival. The difference in expression patterns ...

Female mouse embryos actively remove male reproductive systems

August 17, 2017
A protein called COUP-TFII determines whether a mouse embryo develops a male reproductive tract, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health and their colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. The ...

New technique overcomes genetic cause of infertility

August 17, 2017
Scientists have created healthy offspring from genetically infertile male mice, offering a potential new approach to tackling a common genetic cause of human infertility.

Inhibiting a protein found to reduce progression of Alzheimer's and ALS in mice

August 17, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with Genetech Inc. and universities in Hamburg and San Francisco has found that inhibiting the creation of a protein leads to a reduction in the progression of Alzheimer's disease ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.