What is a β cell? – Chapter I in the Human Islet Research Network (HIRN) review series

Klaus H. Kaestner, Martha Campbell-Thompson, Yuval Dor, Ronald G. Gill, Benjamin Glaser, Seung K. Kim, Maike Sander, Cherie Stabler, Andrew F. Stewart, Alvin C. Powers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: The pancreatic β cell, as the sole source of the vital hormone insulin, has been under intensive study for more than a century. Given the potential of newly created insulin-producing cells as a treatment or even cure of type 1 diabetes (T1D) and possibly in severe cases of type 2 diabetes (T2D), multiple academic and commercial laboratories are working to derive surrogate glucose-responsive, insulin-producing cells. Scope of Review: The recent development of advanced phenotyping technologies, including molecular, epigenomic, histological, or functional, have greatly improved our understanding of the critical properties of human β cells. Using this information, here we summarize the salient features of normal, fully functional adult human β cells, and propose minimal criteria for what should rightfully be termed ‘β cells’ as opposed to insulin-producing but not fully-functional surrogates that we propose should be referred to as ‘β-like’ cells or insulin-producing cells. Major Conclusions: Clear criteria can be established to differentiate fully functional, mature β cells from ‘β-like’ surrogates. In addition, we outline important knowledge gaps that must be addressed to enable a greater understanding of the β cell.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101323
JournalMolecular Metabolism
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Beta cell
  • Diabetes
  • Islet
  • Islet transplantation


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