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Research worlds are being built on small islets to reveal the secrets of type 1 diabetes

Research network studies pancreatic islets of Langerhans
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(Vienna, 19 March 2019) MedUni Vienna is participating in a research network studying the function of the islets of Langerhans (human islet cells) in the pancreas, in order to identify the causes and mode of development of type 1 diabetes.

Despite major investment into diabetes research, detailed insights into the function of the human pancreatic islet cells are still relatively rare. One of the major limitations is that we currently have only a limited access to islet cells from type-1-diabetic organisms. Therefore it is critical to build the research network around the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where organ donor programmes have been running successfully for many years.An integrative approach is being used in the research network to gain new insights into the function of human islet cells and their relationship with gene and protein expression patterns. Molecular markers, which potentially also describe the heterogeneity of the islet cell function are being traced back into their native environment of the pancreas to identify the differences between healthy islets and type-1-diabetic islets. A special combination of methods will link the excitability of individual islet cells with metabolism, RNA sequencing, proteomics and an in-house programme for isolating human islets from healthy donors and donors with type 1 diabetes.The research group at MedUni Vienna’s Institute of Physiology and Pharmacology, led by Marjan Slak Rupnik, is participating in the research network on two levels. The researchers have developed a tissue slice model that closely approximates the native pancreatic environment and at the same time, allows insights into the function of individual human islet cells – and does so with extremely high spatial and temporal resolution. These high-resolution functional images of islet cell collectives are particularly important for modern computational analyses, e.g. complex networks.Says Slak Rupnik: "Our first task is to pass on expertise about the production of pancreatic tissue sections and functional multicellular imaging to our network partners by means of a joint post-doc position with the Edmonton group. At the same time, we will act as the interface for the analysis of the dynamic images on islet cell collectives obtained within the HIRN network. The close collaboration with Edmonton will also allow other groups at MedUni Vienna to have access to human pancreases."The HIRN research network "Linking Islet Cell Function and Identity from in vitro to in situ" (U01 DK120447) is a collaboration between MedUni Vienna (Center for Physiology and Pharmacology), the University of Oxford, and the University of Maribor as an external partner, with the Salk Institute, Stanford University and KTM Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm as PIs, coordinated by Patrick MacDonald, University of Alberta, Edmonton. Link to the project: hirnetwork.org/project/macdonald120447