Islets of youth  pg. 6

Vanderbilt also is the coordinating center for the international Beta Cell Biology Consortium, established in 2001 in response to a congressional mandate to capitalize on the advances of the previous two decades.

Currently the consortium facilitates collaboration among 30 principal investigators from nine countries, three of whom reported earlier this year that, in the mouse at least, “you can reactivate the embryonic program and make new insulin-producing cells in adult pancreases from a progenitor cell,” Gannon says.

While collaboration is no guarantee of faster progress, “I would not be at all surprised if five years yields a completely novel way of looking at cells,” says Wright, whose vision of the future draws from the science fiction comic books of his youth.

“I think there will be a way of either looking at a normal cell or labeling a cell in some very clever way, and then probing the cell, with something like a ray gun,” he continues, his eyes twinkling.

That futuristic firing will provide “extremely high-precision data telling us what is going on inside all the cells -- all the protein-protein interactions, metabolic pathways and which genes are being switched on and off, and in real time.”

“You ought to be able to pull a trigger,” Wright envisions, “and get really exciting information directly from each nucleus.”

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