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Generous Donation from the Arthur M. and Martha R. Pappas Foundation Advances UMass Diabetes Research Capabilities

Date Posted: Friday, December 02, 2022
Arthur Pappas, MD, famed Boston Red Sox team physician and a pioneer in the field of sports medicine

The Diabetes Center of Excellence (DCOE) at the UMass Chan Medical School received a $250,000 donation from the Arthur M. and Martha R. Pappas Foundation to purchase and maintain a state-of-the-art flow cytometer.

“Flow cytometry technology provides rapid analysis of single cells,” said David Harlan, MD, the William and Doris Krupp Professor of Medicine and co-director of the UMass Chan DCOE.  “Our research team uses complex flow cytometric approaches to characterize cells and their functional and signaling properties with the ultimate goal being a cure for diabetes.”  DCOE scientists are using the new 5-laser flow cytometer to provide quantitative data on immune cell and pancreatic islet cell phenotypes.  The instrument facilitates analysis of samples and greatly expands our capacity to rapidly screen experimental samples.

“These sophisticated machines utilize lasers to produce light signals that are read by detectors, generating electronic data that can be carefully analyzed,” said Dale Greiner, PhD, the Dr. Eileen L. Berman and Stanley I. Berman Foundation Chair in Biomedical Research, Professor of Molecular Medicine and co-director of the UMass Chan DCOE.  “This new machine allows us to analyze more than 20 unique parameters on a single cell simultaneously.”

Michael Brehm, PhD, showing Mrs. Pappas how the flow cytometer works

Nine UMass Chan DCOE laboratories are also members of the JDRF Center of Excellence in New England led by Dr. Harlan.  The international diabetes community is particularly thrilled by the recent announcement by Vertex Pharmaceuticals that laboratory produced beta-like cells, using techniques developed in the Melton lab at Harvard and have been tested at the UMass DCOE, function when transplanted into a human being.  Currently, that patient must take immunosuppressive agents to prevent the cells from being rejected.  UMass DCOE scientists are collaborating with colleagues throughout New England and supported by the JDRF to genetically engineer those cells so they evade immune destruction, eliminating the need for immunosuppression.

“The addition of this flow cytometer greatly facilitates that and other related work,” added Dr. Harlan.  “Other DCOE scientists are investigating factors that initiate the autoimmune attack that causes type 1 diabetes, as well as studying mechanisms leading to diabetes complications.  This new instrument is a work horse, used for those studies as well.”

Martha Pappas with (L-R) David Harlan, MD - Samir Malkani, MD - Michael Brehm, PhD

The UMass DCOE has previously benefitted from the philanthropy of the Pappas Foundation.  A generous gift in 2014 allowed for the launch of the UMass Memorial Blood Glucose Management Service (BGMS) which oversees the care of inpatients with diabetes.