The generation of β-cells in vitro is an attractive option for cell therapy treatments for type 1 diabetes and also for the development of more accurate disease models. A number of studies have demonstrated that insulin-expressing cells can be generated by the in vitro differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells. However, to date, these differentiation protocols are often inefficient, time-consuming and highly variable. In many cases, this is a result of an incomplete understanding of the regulatory processes involved in the differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells. One such process is the control of gene expression by microRNAs (miRNAs). Given that miRNAs have the potential to influence cell fate, we present in this short review the evidence that a further understanding of the role of miRNAs in pancreatic development and function may be important in the on-going quest to generate insulin-secreting cells from pluripotent stem cells.
Keywords: Differentiation, embryonic stem cells, endoderm, induced pluripotent stem cells, insulin, microRNA, pancreas, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes.