The pancreas is a vital gland of exocrine and endocrine function. It is the target of two main affections: diabetes and pancreatic cancer. We describe the tissue interactions, signaling pathways and intracellular targets that are involved in the emergence of the pancreas primordium and its proliferation, morphogenesis and differentiation. It appears that several genes of developmental relevance have an adult function and are involved in pancreas affections. Embryological experimentation in animals contributed to provide candidate genes for human disease and holds promise for future treatments.