18 June

Thesis defense Nerys Williams: Human pancreatic organoids

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Nerys Williams, from the group of Eelco de Koning at the Hubrecht Institute and the Leiden University Medical Center, has successfully defended her thesis on the 18thof June. During her PhD, Williams further developed a method to culture mini-organs (or organoids) of the human pancreas. These organoids will increase our understanding of pancreatic regeneration and may help in the generation of insulin producing cells for transplantation into patients with type 1 diabetes in the future. This research resulted in her thesis “Characterisation of human pancreatic organoids: navigating towards Islets of Langerhans”.

In the Netherlands, there are approximately 100,000 patients with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes can eventually result in kidney failure, blindness, coma and death. Treatment with insulin is currently the mainstay therapy. However, for a subset of these patients, usually with glycemic lability, transplantation of the whole pancreas or the Islets of Langerhans is a treatment option. Unfortunately, only a very limited number of donor organs is available. Therefore, it is crucial to investigate new potential sources of insulin producing cells, in order to be able to treat more patients with cell replacement therapy.

Pancreas organoids | Alvleesklier organoïden

Williams therefore searched for a new source of insulin-producing cells during her PhD. To this end, she cultured mini-organs, also called organoids, from pancreatic precursor cells that turned out to be present in the exocrine portion of the human pancreas. These mini-organs contain almost all cell types that are also present in the pancreas, among which some insulin-producing cells. Subsequently, she was able to tweak the culture conditions of these mini-organs so that they make slightly more insulin producing cells.


The pancreatic organoids need to be further characterized, but may eventually provide a new source of insulin producing cells that have the potential to be used in patients for cell replacement therapy in the future.


Pancreas organoid with fluorescent staining | Alvleesklier organoïde met fluorescente kleuring

Nerys Williams did her PhD in a collaboration between the Hubrecht Institute and Leiden University Medical Center under supervision of Eelco de Koning and Françoise Carlotti.She is currently working for Merck Sharpe and Dohme (MSD) Animal Health in the Netherlands.



Eelco de Koning is group leader at the Hubrecht Institute and professor of Diabetology at the Leiden University Medical Center.


Françoise Carlotti is assistant professor at the Leiden University Medical Center.