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Dr. Sam Stephens is awarded two grants to study how beta cells fail in type 2 diabetes

April 2020

I am excited to report that Sam Stephens, PhD, Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center member, and Assistant Professor of Internal and Molecular Medicine was recently awarded a $1.2 million grant.  The grant was awarded by the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP), administered by the Department of Defense for diabetes research.  Dr. Stephens’ laboratory project “Exhausted Protein Sorting Capacity Impairs Beta-Cell Function in Type 2 Diabetes” studies how defects in insulin synthesis and packaging within the pancreatic islet beta-cell contributes to beta-cell dysfunction in Type 2 Diabetes.

Small clusters of cells within the pancreas, known as islet beta-cells, regulate blood sugar by controlled release of the hormone insulin. Insulin is made in islet beta-cells where it is packaged into small vesicles and stored until needed. During the course of type 2 diabetes, the islet beta-cells ramp up insulin production to overcome the body’s insulin resistance; however long-term this strategy fails rendering the beta-cell unable to produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar. The reasons for this failure are not known and are the major focus of Stephens’ laboratory. To study this process, Dr. Sam Stephen’s laboratory will use genetically-encoded biosensors and high resolution microscopes to examine how insulin is synthesized, packaged, and stored inside islet beta-cells and how these processes are altered in diabetes. Furthermore, they will use this powerful technique to decipher how diabetes medications may improve the health of beta-cells in type 2 diabetes.

Shortly after receiving this great news, we learnt that Dr. Stephens received a second grant, this time from the American Diabetes Association. Dr. Stephens will use the $354,000 grant from the ADA to study how two proteins that are essential for normal insulin secretion, namely chromogranin B and VGF proteins regulate insulin production and storage in the islet beta-cells. Understanding these processes could unlock new approaches for preserving  or reversing abnormal function of pancreatic islet cells in diabetes. Join me in congratulating Dr. Stephens on this double achievement!