- Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium - BS & MS
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York - Ph.D
Our long-term research goal is to develop a non-invasive screening system to identify children at risk for type I diabetes as early as possible.
Type 1 diabetes (T1D), typically diagnosed in young children. Besides daily hardships associated with the disease, diabetic children also have a much higher lifetime risk for many dangerous complications and premature mortality. Despite decades of research, T1D cannot be prevented. Indeed, clinicians cannot accurately identify individuals at risk for the disease prior to the onset of autoimmunity because no robust early screening biomarkers have been identified. While epidemiologic and clinical evidence suggest that virus exposure might induce the process leading to T1D, interventional studies to look at virus infection in humans are not feasible.
Our research interests are 1) Identify and validate early stage, T1D-specific biomarkers using a combination of advanced molecular biology techniques and the latest imaging technology; 2) Create a non-invasive screening system for early T1D risk assessment in humans, and evaluate the feasibility of both screening and diagnostic methodologies.
Our objectives are based on our data from our rat diabetes model that helps overcome some of the identified knowledge gaps since diabetes can be virally induced in that model with quite precise disease onset kinetics following induction. Especially, our rat model and published human T1D data indicate this model is highly relevant to human disease. We will identify circulating blood biomarker candidates using this animal model and these markers will be vigorously validated using multiple techniques to assess their specificity, sensitivity, and reproducibility for autoimmune diabetes. Promising animal biomarkers will be then be assessed using human samples to identify human T1D biomarkers which can be used for future early T1D risk screening. Using the latest imaging technology, we have also observed pancreatic changes in this rat model following induction, and we will evaluate the technique as a non-invasive risk diagnostic method for clinical use in children and young adults with recent onset T1D.
The rapidly increasing T1D incidence emphasizes the urgency to test our novel discoveries for their practical use. Our project was designed to facilitate translation of animal data and methodologies to the clinic as rapidly and directly as possible. The animal model is used not only to solve a scientific problem, but also to optimize methods and eliminate practical problems that may occur in the clinic. Every element of our novel methodology (including the biomarker sample type, the sample collection method, the sample analysis method, and the risk diagnostic tool) is specially designed to be non- or minimally-invasive, child- and parent-friendly, convenient, fast, safe, and economical. We will collaborate with UMass Memorial Diabetes Center of Excellence and UMass Memorial Children’s Hospital for the clinical studies.