Vrije Universiteit Brussel


Pancreatic Cell Differentiation

Terminally differentiated cells cannot differentiate further along the lineage wherein they are committed. However, throughout life cells can partially de-differentiate and eventually regain proliferative potential, or they can transdifferentiate into another lineage. Exocrine acinar cells from the adult pancreas, for example, can transdifferentiate into ductal cells, hepatocytes, or endocrine beta cells. Since acinar cells represent the majority of cells in the pancreas, this plasticity could be of use to generate large numbers of endocrine cells for transplantation in diabetes patients.

Our research project aims at identifying the extrinsic factors (growth factors, hormones, cytokines and extracellular matrix) and signalling pathways which regulate cellular transdifferentiation. For this, we have developed in vitro models based on primary cultures of pancreatic exocrine cells. We are also developing genetic lineage tracing methods to be able to follow transdifferentiation.

Our research has already led to the discovery of a combination of agents which induces endocrine-exocrine transdifferentiation, namely epidermal growth factor plus leukemia inhibitory factor or ciliary neurotrophic factor. We are currently unraveling the underlying mechanism.

©2015-2016 • DIFF • Vrije Universiteit Brussel • Faculteit Geneeskunde & Farmacie • Laarbeeklaan 103 • 1090 Jette • Tel.: 02/477.44.57 • lucbo@vub.ac.be