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Molecular Medicine 3D Visualisation: New Tool in Diabetes Research

| Editor: Alexander Stark

Swedish scientists have developed datasets that are able to map the three-dimensional distribution and volume of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The visual and quantitative data of this development could become a valuable reference resource for diabetes researchers. The Umeå University researchers are publishing these datasets in the Nature Research journal Scientific Data.

The image, created with OPT, shows the pancreas of a healthy mouse. The individual pancreatic islets have been color-coded and their exact volume and 3D-coordinates can be precisely determined throughout the pancreas. The exocrine pancreatic tissue (in grey) has partly been digitally removed.
The image, created with OPT, shows the pancreas of a healthy mouse. The individual pancreatic islets have been color-coded and their exact volume and 3D-coordinates can be precisely determined throughout the pancreas. The exocrine pancreatic tissue (in grey) has partly been digitally removed.
(Source: Ulf Ahlgren)

Umeå/Sweden — The hormone insulin, which is needed to regulate the blood sugar levels of the body, is produced by the pancreas and plays a key role in the development of diabetes. Insulin-producing cells are organised in the so-called Islets of Langerhans (or pancreatic islets), which are scattered by the thousands in the pancreas. In diabetes research, it is often important to study the quantity and distribution of insulin-producing cells. At present, such studies are generally based upon analyses of chosen cross-sections of pancreatic tissue. These in turn form the basis for attempting to gain an overall picture of the pancreas.

“However, such analyses only provide limited information and are often ridden with relatively large margins of error since the conclusions are based only on two-dimensional data,” says Ulf Ahlgren, professor in molecular medicine at Umeå University and in charge of the publications.

Gallery

Ulf Ahlgren and his research colleagues at the Umeå Centre for Molecular Medicine (UCMM) have previously developed new methods to create three-dimensional images of the insulin cell distribution in intact pancreas based on so-called optical projection tomography (OPT). This technique in many ways bears resemblance to a medical CT scanner, but instead of x-rays it uses regular light.

“We believe that the current publication represents the most comprehensive anatomical and quantitative description of the insulin cell distribution in the pancreas. By making these datasets accessible to other researchers, the data will be available for use as a powerful tool for a great number of diabetes studies. Examples may include planning of stereological analyses, in the development of non-invasive imaging techniques or various types of computational modelling and statistical analyses,” says Ulf Ahlgren.

The datasets now published in Scientific Data consist of tomographic and 3D images. The datasets also include information on the individual volume of the Islets of Langerhans and their 3D coordinates and appearance throughout the entire pancreas in both healthy mice and obese mice (ob/ob), at different ages. The obese mice used in the study have a mutation that make them prone to develop obesity and diabetes.

The datasets highlight that islets differ in size and quantity within, and between, the various lobes of the pancreas. According to the research team, this emphasises that the pancreas should not be seen as a homogenous organ when experimental diabetes researchers study the insulin-producing Islets of Langerhans.

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