Objectives: Islet transplantation is hampered by the shortage of donor tissues. Our objective was to generate islet-like cell clusters (ICCs) from cultures of non-islet pancreatic cells.
Methods: The starting cultured cells came from the non-islet fractions of human pancreases after enzymatic digestion and purification for the purpose of islet isolation. Initially, these cells expanded in monolayer cultures and became confluent on collagen-coated flasks. After trypsination and suspension of these cells in a defined islet differentiation medium, the cells aggregated to form ICCs.
Results: The initial cell population consisted of less than 1% of insulin-positive cells, 44% amylase-positive cells, and 41% cytokeratin (CK) 7-positive, or CK19 cells, but PDX-1 cells were absent. Cells from later stages of the monolayer cultures showed signs of dedifferentiation/transdifferentiation. At the time of harvesting, more than 90% of the cells were positive for CK 7/19 and PDX-1, but less than 1% of the cells were insulin-positive. After aggregation, the ICCs appeared redifferentiated, and contained glucose-responsive, insulin-secreting cells with an insulin content measuring 20% of that found in freshly isolated islets isolated from the same pancreas. ICCs transplanted into athymic mice and removed after 4 months did acquire the morphology of mature islets, indicating further maturation of the ICCs in vivo after transplantation. Human C-peptide was detected in recipient animal sera.
Conclusion: Using the specified culture methods, non-islet pancreas cells can generate cell clusters resembling islets. These ICCs, obtained from fractions of the pancreas that are otherwise discarded, continue to differentiate after transplantation to become mature islets.