Human-specific gene regulation in pancreatic beta-cell development


  • Prof Andrew Hattersley

    University of Exeter, United Kingdom

  • Dr Nick Owens

    University of Exeter Medical School, United Kingdom

  • Dr Michael Imbeault

    University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

  • Dr Elisa De Franco

    University of Exeter Medical School, United Kingdom

  • Prof Timo Otonkoski

    University of Helsinki, Finland

Project summary

Background: Through genetic research, we found that a gene named ZNF808 that is only conserved in humans and some primates is essential for human pancreas development. This is a critical clue into advancing our understanding of human pancreas development and of multiple forms of diabetes. 

Approach: Our team of complementary international experts will use this new information to:   
1.    Define how ZNF808 controls human pancreas development by studies in human stem cells. 
2.    Use this new knowledge to improve how we make insulin producing pancreatic beta-cells from human stem-cells. 
3.    Identify new genes and regulatory regions that drive human pancreas development.
4.    Study in patients the short and long-term impact of the disruption of normal beta-cell development and absent insulin secretion in the womb. 

Impact: Our project will transform our understanding of human pancreatic development and open the door to making better therapies to treat diabetes.