The new method developed by professor Anne Grapin-Botton and her team at the Danish Stem Cell Centre allows the cell material from mice to grow vividly in picturesque tree-like structures.
The method offers huge long term potential in producing miniature human pancreas from human stem cells. These human miniature organs would be valuable as models to test new drugs fast and effective - and without the use of animal models.
The cells do not thrive and develop if they are alone, and a minimum of four pancreatic cells close together is required for subsequent organoid development.
"We found that the cells of the pancreas develop better in a gel in three-dimensions than when they are attached and flattened at the bottom of a culture plate. Under optimal conditions, the initial clusters of a few cells have proliferated into 40,000 cells within a week. After growing a lot, they transform into cells that make either digestive enzymes or hormones like insulin and they self-organize into branched pancreatic organoids that are amazingly similar to the pancreas," Grapin-Botton said.
The scientists used this system to discover that the cells of the pancreas are sensitive to their physical environment such as the stiffness of the gel and to contact with other cells.
The study is published in the scientific journal Development.