Break it down
The pancreas is a glandular organ that helps convert food into fuel for the body’s cells. The head of the pancreas is wedged in the spot where the stomach meets the small intestine, and it releases digestive enzymes as partially digested food passes through. These enzymes then break down the food further for absorption.
Pour Some Sugar On Me
The pancreas also produces the hormone insulin, which stops your blood sugar from getting too low, or in the case of a chocolate-stuffed Easter Sunday, too high. For some people, however, the immune system goes rogue and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas—this is the condition better known as diabetes. It leads to glucose building up, which causes problems like kidney failure. In other words, it’s extremely serious.
Ticking Time Bomb
Another worrying condition that affects the pancreas is pancreatitis, when the organ becomes inflamed. It can be caused by excessive drink and drug intake: One famous rock ‘n’ roll bassist experienced his pancreas “exploding,” after it swelled to the size of a rugby ball and ruptured. Fortunately for him, it’s possible to have your pancreas removed and still live.
Stanford University scientists recently grew human-sheep hybrid embryos inside a surrogate for three weeks. Now, they’re putting human stem cells into sheep embryos—these cells have been modified so they can’t grow a pancreas, the hope being that human DNA will fill in the gap. The aim of all this is to try and grow a human pancreas inside a sheep, so they can be harvested for transplants. “We have already generated a mouse pancreas in rats!” exclaimed lead researcher Hiro Nakuachi.