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Sally Kent receives Pioneer Award from the Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes (nPod)

Date Posted: Feb 28, 2018

Sally C. Kent, PhD, an immunologist at the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence, was recognized by the Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes (nPOD) with the Pioneer Award for her “continued dedication to create a world free of type 1 diabetes." 

nPOD recovers and characterizes pancreata and related tissues from recently deceased tissue donors with type 1 diabetes as well as those who are islet autoantibody positive. Dr. Kent collaborates with fellow investigators, working together to use these valuable, donated tissues, to address key immunological, histological, viral, and metabolic questions related to how type 1 diabetes develops.

Dr. Kent coordinates large multi-investigator projects with nPOD.  She works with a consortium of several dozen international scientists who use the donated tissues to study the autoimmune response in patients with T1D.  The Kent Lab focuses on T cell response to self-proteins or autoimmunity in type 1 diabetes. They are the cells that destroy the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreatic islets, leading to diabetes. Her research studies the autoreactive T cell repertoire in the periphery, spleen, pancreatic lymph nodes and in islet-infiltrating lymphocytes from donors with T1D, from donors at-risk for T1D, and from control donors.

Jenny Aurielle Babon, PhD, a postdoc in the Kent Lab, presented a poster and gave a talk at nPOD's 10th Annual Scientific Meeting about their findings looking at the white blood cells from within the islets of a recent-onset T1D donor. The donor had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just five months before he passed away, at the age of 23.  

“The islets we received from this donor is especially interesting because it allows us to study the T cells in the islets around the time of diagnosis. Having those cells to work with will help us understand the autoimmunity that happens at that point of diagnosis in this young adult,” said Dr. Babon. “The tissues donated by the families of these donors allow us to look at their islets to see what their T-cells were doing at the time,” added Dr. Kent. 

The Kent Lab continues to ask the question, “why are the immune cells attacking the insulin producing cells in the body of a person with type 1 diabetes?”  They are probing for answers to help design therapies to stop the autoimmune response.    

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