SPUR 2021: IMMUNE AND METABOLIC CELL CROSS-TALK IN AUTOIMMUNE DIABETES

Faculty Name:
Maria Bettini

Department:
Pathology

Faculty College:
Medicine

Email:


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease that precipitates as a result of destruction of insulin producing beta cells by the rogue cells of the immune system. This leads to dysregulation of glucose metabolism leading to negative effects on multiple systems and disease associated complications. There is no cure for T1D. Our laboratory is investigating the interactions, both direct and indirect, between T cells and beta cells. T cells can target beta cells for destruction, but there also exists an anti-inflammatory subpopulation of T cells that can prevent or reverse autoimmunity – regulatory T cells. Regulatory T cells are currently tested in multiple clinical trials as a therapy for autoimmune diseases and transplant tolerance, but we still do not have complete understanding of their functional potential and molecular mechanisms. What is exciting, is that several molecules produced by regulatory T cells can signal directly to beta cells and potentially improve their survival under inflammatory conditions. Current work in the lab is further dissecting these signals using mouse models of T1D, flow cytometry, microscopy, and single cell genomics. We are also interested in how T cells themselves are affected by diabetes, and how they respond to changing metabolic conditions.



Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position


Student Role:

For this project, the student will work with the faculty mentor and a graduate student to develop an abstract of the proposed summer project based on the ongoing study in the lab. This will be accomplished by discussions with the faculty mentor, the graduate student, and integration of the assigned reading material. The objective is to outline a research goal that fits within the ongoing study, can be realistically completed within the allocated time, and have an important contribution to the work with a potential for authorship on a manuscript. The study should fit within the scope of the current project spearheaded by the graduate student mentor. The student will then work with the graduate student mentor to implement the proposed study. The student will learn and use techniques such as cell culture, flow cytometry, and microscopy to study T cell function and beta cell survival in a mouse model of diabetes. The student will receive training in sterile cell culture techniques, introduction to flow cytometric analysis of immune cells, and tissue staining and confocal microscopy of the autoimmune pancreas. It is expected that by the end of the program the student will have both theoretical knowledge of the subject and experience in one or two practical approaches to address scientific questions in immunology and metabolism. Remote Contingency Plan: In the case that SPUR work has to be done remotely, the project will be modified to focus on gaining skills in reading, understanding, interrogating, and writing primary research manuscripts. Through this process, the student will make contributions to a research manuscript on the topic of regulatory T cell function and metabolism. To accomplish this, the student will be assigned background reading on the topic, followed by guided independent research into a specific concept to be covered in the manuscript. Under the guidance and mentorship provided by the faculty member and the graduate student, the student will develop a written contribution to the manuscript by investigating a specific concept or question. This will become a section in a primary literature review manuscript or a section in the discussion of the primary research article. In addition, the student will provide comments to the manuscript draft as a whole. The student will meet at least on a by-weekly basis with the faculty and the graduate student mentor via Zoom, attend weekly Zoom lab meetings, and attend Zoom Department seminars. The primary objectives of this experience are to obtain skills in reading, understanding, and critical evaluation of primary research literature. The student will have an opportunity to contribute and become a co-author on a manuscript. At the end of the training period, the student will present the findings from the research and outline potential future directions in the area of investigation.


Student Benefits:

The objectives of the training are threefold: develop theoretical understanding of the project from reading assigned material, weekly meetings with the faculty mentor and the graduate student mentor, attendance at weekly laboratory meetings, and independent study; acquire technical proficiency in appropriate immunological assays under the mentorship of the graduate student; cultivate presentation skills by discussing experimental results with the faculty member, and presenting the results of the study to the rest of the research group at the completion of the project. The student will work closely with the graduate student mentor to learn new techniques and assays, but will also be encouraged to gain independence in their role in the project. Students will also be able to attend lab meetings and seminars to further their knowledge in other aspects of immunology, but also in broader scientific fields. This will allow the student to develop their presentation skills, laying the groundwork for future speaking engagements. Furthermore, as the lab is currently a robust research environment, the student will be given opportunities to engage with other lab members and learn about other ongoing projects in the lab. This will allow the student to develop an appreciation for a variety of scientific topics.


Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021


Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.