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New Fuller Foundation Term Chair named

Sally C. Kent, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the Diabetes Center of Excellence, was named the George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation Term Chair in Diabetes in December 2019.

Thanks to gifts from the 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. Dr. Kent is the second junior faculty member to hold the Fuller Foundation Term Chair.

“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 Fuller Foundation. “The UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence 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.”

Michael Brehm, PhD, associate professor of molecular medicine, holds the Robert and Sandra Glass Term Chair in Diabetes. Rene Maehr, PhD, associate professor of molecular medicine, holds The Glass Charitable 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 Professor in Medicine, professor of medicine and co-director of the 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, professor of molecular medicine and co-director of the Diabetes Center of Excellence.

Kent said the main focus of her 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,” Kent said. “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.”

Kent 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 coming to UMass Chan Medical School in 2010.