While insulin replacement remains the cornerstone treatment for type I diabetes mellitus (T1DM), the transplantation of pancreatic islets of Langerhans has the potential to become an important alternative. And yet, islet transplant therapy is limited by several factors, including far too few donor pancreases. Attempts to expand mature islets or to produce islets from stem cells are far from clinical application. The production and expansion of the insulin-producing cells within the islet (so called beta cells), or even creating cells that secrete insulin under appropriate physiological control, has proven difficult. The difficulty is explained, in part, because insulin synthesis and release is complex, unique, and not entirely characterized. Understanding beta-cell function at the molecular level will likely facilitate the development of techniques to manufacture beta-cells from stem cells. We will review islet transplantation, as well as the mechanisms underlying insulin transcription, translation and glucose stimulated insulin release.