PURPOSE OF REVIEW - We highlight some of the major recent advances in characterizing human pancreas development and endocrine cell differentiation.
RECENT FINDINGS - Extensive research efforts have helped to define crucial events in the mouse pancreas organogenesis. Information gained from these studies was used to develop human embryonic stem cell (hESC) differentiation protocols with the goal of generating functional glucose-responsive, insulin-producing human β-cells. In spite of remarkable progress in hESC differentiation, current protocols based on mouse developmental biology can produce human β-cells only in vivo. New differentiation markers and recently generated reagents may provide an unprecedented opportunity to develop a high-density expression map of human fetal pancreas and pancreatic islets that could serve as a reference point for in vitro hESC differentiation.
SUMMARY - Integrating an increased knowledge of human pancreas development into hESC differentiation protocols has the potential to greatly advance our ability to generate functional insulin-producing cells for β-cell replacement therapy.