Pathway to a cure

Transplantable cells offer hope, but face obstacles

Leigh MacMillan, Ph.D.
Published: July, 2003

Three-D image of an intact rat pancreatic islet, in which is coiled an insulin pump infusion set, courtesy of SpectRx, is shown against a background of images that suggest the past and future of diabetes research. In the background: Frederick Banting (top right) and Charles H. Best (bottom left), co-discoverers of insulin, and early insulin bottles, courtesy of Eli Lilly and Company Archives. Squiggly lines are images of blood vessels in the islet and surrounding tissue, courtesy of Marcela Brissova of Vanderbilt University. The islet image, visualized with multi-color, laser scanning confocal immunofluorescence microscopy, is courtesy of T.C. Brelje and R.L. Sorenson of the University of Minnesota Medical School. It shows insulin-secreting beta cells in green, glucagon-secreting alpha cells in blue and somatostatin-secreting delta cells in red.
One step into Chris Wright’s Vanderbilt office, and it’s clear that this guy is fond of frogs. Perched on a long low bookcase are all manner of them — wooden, ceramic, stuffed. The figures join a striking series of models that show, in hand-painted detail, stages of the developing frog embryo.

The décor pays homage to the animal that gave Wright his scientific start. It was in studies of the frog embryo — a system long-favored for developmental biology research — that Wright discovered a gene critical to the development of the pancreas. The findings launched a path of inquiry that has landed Wright in the thick of the push to cure diabetes.

It’s not a place he set out to be. The pressure of finding something that will benefit the millions of patients suffering from diabetes can be daunting, says Wright, professor of Cell & Developmental Biology, but “it’s also invigorating.

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