Lauren Clark, a graduate student in the Attie Lab, has been awarded a F31 grant from the National Institutes of Health. The prestigious grant will support Clark’s research and stipend. Clark, a doctoral candidate in the Nutritional Sciences Ph.D. program, will be exploring genetic drivers that control insulin secretion.
Insulin is a hormone produced by β-cells — one of the types of cells that form clusters known as pancreatic islets — within the endocrine pancreas. It essential for metabolic health in humans and other animals. Diabetes is a condition resulting from the body either producing too little insulin (type 1 diabetes) or having a lowered sensitivity to insulin (type 2 diabetes).
Clark’s research builds off research in the Attie Lab that identifies gene variants associated with differences in insulin secretion, gene expression, and levels of insulin secretion in pancreatic cells in mice. “Previously, our lab measured the abundance of RNA within islets, as well as the amount of insulin secretion, using genetically diverse populations of mice,” explains Clark. “We used these data to identify correlations between the two measurements in an attempt to determine which genes are responsible for regulating insulin secretion.”
Clark used this information to identify small molecules that, when applied to islets, altered expression of genes involved in insulin secretion and impacted insulin secretion itself. Through her research, Clark hopes to build on our understanding of how insulin is controlled and how pathways can be manipulated to alter insulin secretion.
“Being awarded this grant is such an honor. I’m grateful to have the financial support to be able to explore the questions I want to ask, and I am eager to see what we learn,” says Clark of the funding.
Clark’s initial projects in the Attie Lab explored other facets of insulin regulation, including using gene editing technology to investigate genetic drivers of insulin secretion and identifying proteins correlated with calcium dynamics, which has an upstream effect on insulin secretion, a study recently published in eLife.
Along with her doctoral research, Clark is completing a certificate in the Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. “For my Ph.D. work, I wanted to be in a basic science research lab to learn the foundations of human metabolism and disease,” says Clark. “To broaden my training, I will complete a DPD certificate and a 1-year internship after I graduate to become a Registered Dietician. This will give me the clinical credentials that I need to do more patient-focused research in the future.”
Clark sees her research as the perfect complement to her coursework in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. “My interdisciplinary education enhances my abilities as a biochemist to see the clinical relevance of our findings. And I think my biochemistry research will make me a better nutritionist because it provides an in-depth understanding of metabolism and the tools to think critically about experimental outcomes and design.”
Written by Renata Solan.