Research Collaboration: the key to progress for a cure

Stephan Kissler, PhD(left) and Peng Yi, PhD(right) are searching for a cure for diabetes.  Their story has no ending yet, but certainly has a promising beginning.

One of the great strengths of Joslin research is the ease with which different areas of study can combine on new ideas.  With all our research labs located in one building, there is vastly more opportunity for the kind of informal interaction that leads to unexpected collaborations.

Take Immunologist Stephan Kissler, PhD and Cell Biologist Peng Yi, PhD — their labs are just a few doors apart.

One day, Stephan and Peng met in the hallway. During their conversation, Stephan shared an idea he was mulling over.  He wondered if there was a way to engineer a beta cell (the insulin producing cells that are eliminated by autoimmunity in type 1 diabetes) so that the immune system would not destroy it.

Stephan and Peng now have developed interesting and promising data.  They have narrowed their focus to a dozen genes.  These have shown promise to protect beta cells against the autoimmune attack which causes type 1 diabetes.

Stephan had just attended a seminar at the Harvard Institute of Medicine. The guest speaker discussed genes in immune cells that are important in vaccinations.

Stephan knew his colleague Peng specialized in the workings of beta cells.  So he suggested they work together to experiment with a gene that might protect a beta cell and make it resistant to an autoimmune attack.

The first round of testing was not successful.  Peng proposed they try the same experiment, on a larger scale.  Using the latest methods in genetic engineering, they tested all the genes in the genome, about 20,000 different genes, to see if they could find any that would show resistance.

Fast forward several months and Stephan and Peng now have developed interesting and promising data.  They have narrowed their focus to a dozen genes.  These have shown promise to protect beta cells against the autoimmune attack which causes type 1 diabetes.

This latest investigation will take many years to test and evaluate, before it can be tested in clinical trials. But this kind of collaboration is what sets Joslin apart and what we hope will one day lead to a cure.

 

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