Friday, July 12, 2013
By Nicole White
The Islets of Langerhans may sound like an exclusive tropical retreat, but they’re closer to home than you might think. These isles are found in the pancreas and hold precious treasures for researchers bent on finding cures for diabetes.
Commonly referred to as islets, they’re clusters of cells in the pancreas, containing 1,000 to 3,000 cells each – resembling small islands in the pancreatic tissue. The average healthy, adult pancreas contains about 1 million islets, and they make up about 3 to 4 percent of the organ. As treatments for diabetes advance, these cells are becoming a focus of procedures lauded as potential keys to curing the disease
The islets are named after Paul Langerhans, a German physician who discovered in them 1869. They include four major types of cells working together to regulate blood sugar, which is why they’re an important factor in diabetes. The most plentiful are the insulin-producing beta cells and the glucagon-producing alpha cells. In diabetes, the immune system attacks the beta cells, destroying them. Diabetic patients cannot produce insulin, the hormone which lowers blood glucose levels.