Embryonic stem (ES) cells may offer an unlimited cell source for the treatment of diabetes. However, a successful derivation of ES cells into islet-cells has proven to be more difficult than it was initially expected. Considering that the pancreas coordinates the global use of energy in the organism by secreting digestive enzymes and hormones, it is understandable that a sophisticated and tight regulation that lies on the pancreas itself to orchestrate its own tissue development and maturation. The complex process of endocrine cell differentiation can be better understood by analyzing the normal development of the pancreas. The proper detection of the signals provided in the pancreatic environment gives us a clue as to how the stem cells give rise to the whole pancreas. Careful and extensive screening of the natural or synthetic cytokines and growth factors and biochemical compounds that are essential in pancreatic development is required to properly mimic the process in vitro. Such a study would allow the researchers to achieve selective control of the differentiation and proliferation of the stem cells. The development and identification of the key molecules can provide us new insights into the pancreatic differentiation of the stem cells. We herein discuss the role of the microenvironment and transcriptional factors and cytokines, which have been recognized as important molecules during the major steps of the development of the pancreas. Finally, a more complete comprehension of the mechanisms that drive the pancreatic regeneration will provide us with new perspectives for future prophylactic and therapeutic interventions.
Keywords: Pancreas development, β-cell differentiation, cell therapy, diabetes, stem cells, cell-fate modulation, tissue regeneration, tissue homeostasis
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