Pieces of human foetal pancreas were incubated under control conditions and in media containing different stimuli of insulin release. Insulin secretion was stimulated from the pancreases of foetuses (83–625 g body weight) which were of 16–24 weeks gestational age. Potassium (60 mmol/l), barium (2·54 mmol/l) and ouabain (10−5 mol/l) were effective stimuli in all experiments. Glucagon (5 μg/ml), theophylline (1 mmol/l) and dibutyryl 3′,5′-cyclic adenosine monophosphate (1 mmol/l) stimulated insulin secretion in media containing 0, 0·6 or 3·0 mg glucose/ml. Theophylline and dibutyryl 3′,5′-cyclic adenosine monophosphate were effective in all experients and glucagon stimulated insulin release in four out of six experiments. At all ages studied, histological examination of the pancreas after each experiment revealed islets of Langerhans containing β cells. In most cases the islets were of the mantle type but occasionally bipolar islets were seen. Cellular normality, as judged by light microscopy, was preserved after periods of incubation for up to 5½ h. Glycogen was demonstrable in the pancreatic acinar tissue but not in the islets.
The results of these experiments indicate that, between the 16th and 24th week of foetal life, the human β cell is capable of releasing insulin in vitro when stimulated appropriately.