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Glass Family Fellowship in Diabetes Research established at UMMS Diabetes Center of Excellence

Richard A. Siller, PhD: Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Maehr Lab


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The UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence (DCOE) has established The Glass Family Fellowship in Diabetes Research, through a gift from Scott and Patricia Glass. It was presented to Richard A. Siller, PhD, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the laboratory of René Maehr, PhD, The Glass Charitable Foundation Term Chair in Diabetes. Their research addresses a fundamental question – how immune cells are trained by the thymus. The Maher lab has developed a 3D model of the thymus and is working to create a functional human thymus from stem cells.  

“This award was designed to support a promising young scientist for a two-year postdoctoral experience focused exclusively on research to cure type 1 diabetes (T1D),” said David M. Harlan, co-director of the DCOE and The William and Doris Krupp Chair in Diabetes. “Dr. Siller has gained international experience and his work has already been published in top journals.”

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Dr. Siller earned his Master’s of Research in Functional Genomics while working in two European labs. At the University of York in England he worked in the laboratory of Prof. Mark Coles where he studied mouse models of immune and thymic cells. He was also mentored by Prof. Tobias Cantz, PhD, at the Hannover Medical School in Germany, where they developed methods to generate liver cells from stem cells, with a long-term goal of providing stem-cell based therapies for liver disease.

Upon completion of his Master’s degree, he spent two years working at University of Edinburgh in Scotland, under professor Sir Ian Wilmut who gained international fame for cloning Dolly the sheep in 1996.

Coincidentally, Siller received his doctoral degree exactly 28 years to the day after his father received his PhD. “Watching my Dad and the influence he had on people when I was growing up, I knew that I wanted to one day get involved in research,” he said. “The Glass Family Fellow in Diabetes Research at UMass Medical School will prepare me to one day launch my own independent career as a scientist.”

Dr. Siller earned his PhD at University of Oslo in Norway, where he developed a novel protocol to reprogram human stem cells into liver cells. His research in the lab of Dr. Gareth Sullivan resulted in numerous publications, but he’s most proud of Small-Molecule-Driven Hepatocyte Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells. “Several labs throughout the world have successfully repeated and cited our protocol,” said Dr. Siller. “I believe it has the potential to lead to therapies for various maladies.”    

Over the next two years at the UMass DCOE, he’s eager to work toward creating a fully functional human thymus in the Maher Lab. “It has the potential to help us understand both T1D and type 2 diabetes (T2D), but also other autoimmune diseases, and with implications for other illnesses too, including cancer,” said Dr. Siller. “Very few labs in the world are working on this and I believe we’re on the right track to make it a reality.”

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The collaborative environment between the UMass DCOE labs and other departments throughout campus was attractive to him when he decided to accept the position in the Maher Lab. “These are by far the most supportive and collegial group of people I’ve ever worked with,” Dr. Siller added.

He’s motivated most by the goal of ultimately developing therapies to help people living with T1D, T2D, liver disease, and other ailments. “If we can determine why people with type 1 diabetes suffer the consequences of the autoimmune attack on their insulin producing cells, there’s the potential to screen for new drugs, develop therapies and/or make genetic modifications to correct it.” 

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