For the latest COVID-19 campus news and resources, visit

Search Close Search
Search Close Search
Page Menu

The Diabetes Center of Excellence and Worcester Polytechnic Institute Awarded a Grant to Develop Type 1 Diabetes Research Tools

Date Posted: Friday, February 11, 2022
(L-R) Drs. David Harlan, Sambra Redick and Yihao Zheng

The Diabetes Center of Excellence received a UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science (UMCCTS) pilot grant for a collaborative project with Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).  Seven grants were awarded to UMass Chan Medical School faculty and research collaborators to accelerate the translation of basic discoveries into practical, cost-effective solutions that improve human health. 

Isolated single islet studies to define the factors underlying the heterogeneity of islet and peri-islet lymphocytic infiltration in human Type 1 diabetes

Th awarded project is focused on understanding the root cause of autoimmune Type 1 diabetes (T1D).  It is led by David Harlan, MD, the William and Doris Krupp professor of medicine and co-director of the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence.  Sally Kent, PhD will also play a prominent role as an immunologist studying the role T cells play in the autoimmune attack. Dr. Kent, the George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation Term Chair in Diabetes and associate professor of medicine, is investigating how and why these immune cells in people with T1D attack their own insulin producing beta cells. 

Insulin-producing beta cells are located only within the pancreas. They reside in a cluster of cells called the islets of Langerhans. Islets are sprinkled throughout our pancreas. In addition to beta cells, islets also house other cell types including glucagon producing alpha cells (as well as other endocrine cell types) and immune cells called T lymphocytes (T cells). 

The UMass Chan Diabetes Center of Excellence obtains slices of human pancreas from deceased donors, with and without diabetes, who generously donated their organs to science.  

“We isolate islets from the pancreas and study in rigorous detail what exactly has gone wrong to cause Type 1 diabetes,” said Dr. Harlan. “It is still not known why the immune system of people with T1D recognize some beta cells as defective and destroys them. We must first understand that process before we can fix it.”

Sambra Redick, PhD, is a senior scientist in the Harlan Lab.  She has developed unique techniques to separate and study single islets. As technology continues to improve, the methods have advanced. “Ten years ago, we were separating cells from pooled islets and grouping them by cell type for analysis.” said Dr. Redick “Today we remove single cells from the islets and study those individual cells. We perform gene sequencing on the cells to obtain genetic information and also conduct biological functional analysis to get a better understanding of the disease process.”

In a collaboration with Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) engineers, Dr. Redick created a novel tool to improve the removal of individual islets from human pancreas slices. “As we continue to improve this tool, it will help us extract individual islets from living pancreas slices for more in-depth investigation,” she said. 

The Harlan Lab and WPI are also developing a system to efficiently organize and analyze the massive amounts of data generated from the cell analysis. “Their engineers are helping us devise a system to data mine the information we’ve collected.  It will help us correlate patient demographics, sort by cell types and gene expression, and so much more.” said Dr. Redick. 


Yihao Zheng, PhD, leads the team at WPI where he’s an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Zheng is head of the Medical and Manufacturing Innovation Lab, that combines cutting edge technology with experimental investigation to contribute to the advancement of science. His research focuses on medical devices biomedical manufacturing. 

Related Articles

Type 1 Diabetes Researcher Spotlight: Sambra Redick, PhD

Means, Motive, and Opportunity: Investigating the Role of Immune Cells in the Development of Type 1 Diabetes

Dr. David Harlan Collaborated on a Newly Published Study Investigating Smaller Pancreases in People with Type 1 Diabetes

Genetically Engineering & Testing Human Insulin-Producing Cells as a Potential Therapy or Cure for Type 1 Diabetes

More Diabetes Center of Excellence News