From insulin injections to islet transplantation: An overview of the journey

Michelle B. Paget, Hilary E. Murray, Clifford J. Bailey, Richard Downing

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


When, in 1869, Paul Langerhans detected the “islands of tissue” in the pancreas, he took the first step on a journey towards islet transplantation as a treatment for type 1 diabetes. The route has embraced developments across biosciences, surgery, gene therapy and clinical research. This review highlights major milestones along that journey involving whole pancreas transplantation, islet transplantation, the creation of surrogate insulin-secreting cells and novel islet-like structures using genetic and bio-engineering technologies. To obviate the paucity of human tissue, pluripotent stem cells and non-β-cells within the pancreas have been modified to create physiologically responsive insulin-secreting cells. Before implantation, these can be co-cultured with endothelial cells to promote vascularisation and with immune defence cells such as placental amnion cells to reduce immune rejection. Scaffolds to contain grafts and facilitate surgical placement provide further opportunities to achieve physiological insulin delivery. Alternatively, xenotransplants such as porcine islets might be reconsidered as opportunities exist to circumvent safety concerns and immune rejection. Thus, despite a long and arduous journey, the prospects for increased use of tissue transplantation to provide physiological insulin replacement are drawing ever closer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-16
JournalDiabetes, Obesity and Metabolism
Issue numberS1
Early online date26 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • amnion cells
  • endothelial cells
  • islet isolation
  • islet transplantation
  • islets of langerhans
  • surrogate insulin-secreting cells
  • xenotransplantation


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