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Sally Kent Named Fuller Foundation Term Chair in Diabetes at UMass Chan

Date Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2019
By: Lisa Larson - UMass Chan Medical School Communications


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Sally C. Kent, PhD, was named the George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation Term Chair in Diabetes. Dr. Kent studies autoimmune response in type 1 diabetes. Her lab is credited with uncovering new information on how autoreactive T cells target beta cells in islets, a breakthrough that will contribute to the design of therapies for people with type 1 diabetes.

“For decades, investigators have understood the central role the immune system plays in the loss of pancreatic insulin producing cells that underlies type 1 diabetes. Dr. Kent is at the international forefront of efforts to study that process through her elegant and demanding work to characterize the immune cells found at the ‘scene of the crime’ of individuals who have died with type 1 diabetes,” said David Harlan, MD, the William and Doris Krupp Professorship in Medicine and co-director of the UMass Chan Diabetes Center of Excellence.

“This funding not only helps to support the cutting-edge research that Dr. Kent is doing, but also allows her to pursue high risk but high reward research areas that she would otherwise not have been able to do,” said Dale Greiner, PhD, the Dr. Eileen L. Berman and Mr. Stanley I. Berman Foundation Chair in Biomedical Research and co-director of the UMass Chan Diabetes Center of Excellence.

The main focus of the Kent lab is to understand how T cells destroy the pancreatic islet beta cells, the producers of insulin, in type 1 diabetes, by examining these immune cells directly from the source of pathology in human type 1 diabetes, the islets.

“As an immunologist, I want to understand why the immune system attacks and destroys self-tissues,” said Dr. Kent. “We are now able to look at live T cells directly from the islets of donors with type 1 diabetes and look at their function and characteristics. This is something we have never been able to do before and will aid the medical and research community in designing therapies to alter or suppress the function of these destructive T cells. The George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation Term Chair in Diabetes will support my laboratory’s personnel and research to achieve this goal.”

She trained as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester, and as a postdoctoral fellow, instructor and assistant professor of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School before arriving at UMass Chan Medical School in 2010.

Thanks to gifts from the George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation and The Glass Charitable Foundation, UMass Chan Medical School created term chairs in diabetes research in 2015 to support promising scientists early in their careers. Researchers receive $300,000 each over five years to support their scientific work. Michael Brehm, PhD, held the Robert and Sandra Glass Term Chair in Diabetes and Rene Maehr, PhD, was The Glass Charitable Foundation Term Chair in Diabetes. 

“The families of several of our trustees are affected by type 1 diabetes, so we want to continue supporting the cutting-edge research taking place in Worcester at the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence,” said Mark W. Fuller, chairman and treasurer of The George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation. “The Diabetes Center of Excellence at UMass includes some of the world’s best diabetes scientists, and they have a strategic plan to understand what causes diabetes, in order to develop targeted therapies.”

This article was first published on UMassMed Now.

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