BACKGROUND: The availability of human pancreatic islets with characteristics closely resembling those present in vivo is instrumental for ex vivo studies in diabetes research. SCOPE OF REVIEW: In this review we propose metabolically phenotyped surgical patients as a novel source of pancreatic tissue for islet research. Laser Capture Microdissection from snap frozen surgical specimens is a relatively simple, reproducible and scalable method to isolate islets of highest purity for many types of "omics" analyses. Fresh pancreatic tissue slices enable the functional characterization of living islet cells in situ through dynamic experiments. Access to complete medical history and laboratory values for each donor offers the opportunity of direct correlations with different "omics" data and detailed metabolic profiling prior to pancreas surgery. Peripheral blood samples complete the picture of each patient and represent a platform for pursuit of biomarkers with uniquely comprehensive background information in regard to the donor's islet cells. MAJOR CONCLUSIONS: Living donors provide the scientific community with a steady and abundant supply of excellent material to study islets closest to their in situ environment, thus advancing our understanding of their physiology in health and diseases.