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Jia Liu, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has received the Catalyst Award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
The NIDDK Catalyst Award (DP1) is part of the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award mechanism and supports investigators developing bold and innovative approaches to research topics related to diabetes, endocrinology, metabolic diseases, digestive diseases and nutrition.
Liu and his team were awarded $4.225 million over five years to support their research into building better human models of islet development and physiology and new transplantation therapeutics for type 1 diabetes.
Islets are clusters of several different types of cells, including insulin-making beta cells, found throughout the pancreas. Liu’s research project seeks to connect cellular function to gene expression during the maturation of human stem cell-derived islet organoids. To do so, the team will:
- develop soft, stretchable tissue-embedded sensor arrays to trace how individual endocrine progenitors develop, mature and form coordinated 3D islet networks
- map hormones, biomarkers, gene expression, and infer cell identity from intact stem cell-islets
- develop computational methods to integrate single-cell functional and transcriptional data
“Our research will allow us to address major challenges for generating functionally mature stem cell islets for biomedical research and human therapeutics,” said Liu.
Liu and his team will continue working with frequent collaborators, including Xiao Wang at Broad Institute and MIT, to build the multimodal sensing and spatial-omics platform, and Douglas Melton at Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, to map the functional and molecular phenotypes of human stem cell-derived islets during development with the goal of identifying ways to improve the functionality of these organoids to serve as a replacement in individuals with diabetes.
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