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Researcher Spotlight: Pamela St. Louis

Combining her love of animals and science to study Type 1 diabetes

Date Posted: Thursday, July 08, 2021


Pam is a Senior Scientist in the Brehm Lab at the Diabetes Center of Excellence at UMass Medical School.  “I’ve always been fascinated with why things happen and how they work,” she said.  She’s also interested in how our bodies know exactly what to do without us understanding how it works.

After graduating with a BS in Biology from Stonehill College in Easton, MA, she earned her Master's in Animal Science from the University of Rhode Island.  She also holds an Associate degree in Health Information Technology.

Pam has always been an animal lover and enjoys spending free time hiking, kayaking, and photographing birds and nature.  Despite having a cat allergy, she loves cats and has adopted several felines from shelters over the years.  In between graduate school years, Pam spent a summer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, trapping and tagging black bears for research.

In 2002 she began working at UMass Medical School in the Department of Animal Medicine as the Operating Room Supervisor.  This allowed her to combine her loves of animals and science.  She joined the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence (DCOE) in 2010 in the Greiner and Brehm Labs which specialize in type 1 diabetes (T1D) research using unique “humanized” mice. These animals allow our scientists to study human T1D unlike ever before.  The functionality of these furry test tubes continues to improve.

“It’s been rewarding to see the hard work of so many people over the past ten years get us to this point where we are now conducting cutting-edge experiments and obtaining T1D data from human cell interactions.”

Scientists first cured diabetes in mice in the 1970’s, however it did not translate to humans.  In the 1990’s, UMass DCOE co-director Dale Greiner, PhD, was a pioneer of the humanized mouse model which allows scientists to study human cells and tissues in a human-like immune setting.  Today, the laboratories of Dr. Greiner and Michael Brehm, PhD, “humanize” mice by having Pam and others inject stem cells from cord blood donations to create a human-like immune system in the animals. 

This allows them to implant human cells and tissue from volunteer donors and observe how a person’s insulin producing beta cells interacts with their own immune cells.  The goal is to finally understand where, how and why the autoimmune process takes place.  Scientists still don’t know what causes a person’s pancreatic beta cells to be destroyed by their own immune cells.  The more insight they can obtain into how the disease develops, will allow them to create and test therapies.  These “humanized” animals provide a pre-clinical model before a potential treatment can advance to human trials.

“Pam has made significant contributions to the overall success of our diabetes research program," said Dr. Brehm, UMass DCOE principal investigator and co-director of the Humanized Mouse Core Facility at UMass Medical School.  "She's an essential member of our team and is always ready to take on new challenges to keep the science moving forward.”

When people ask Pam how she can love animals yet still work in science, she explains that it’s all about the care and consideration of the animals.  “It takes someone who understands that these animals feel discomfort like we do and that they’re not just a lab mouse,” she said.  “They require environmental enrichment, care and attention, and we provide that.”

Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC) are federally required to oversee the use of animals in research, teaching, and testing.  The UMass Medical School IACUC provides a key oversight role, including the review and approval of animal use activities and inspection of the animal facilities to ensure all protocols are followed. 

Pam performs mouse surgeries required for scientific study, monitors their blood glucose, and does other blood tests as required.  She coordinates and supervises the animals’ care before, during and after experiments.  Her job includes providing postdocs and lab technicians with the resources needed to conduct experiments, while ensuring the animals are treated with the utmost care and respect.  

Pam says the most exciting part of her job is the variety of the work and the progress they have made so far.  The Brehm Lab works on many simultaneous projects and are constantly asking new scientific questions for future experiments. 

Several laboratories within the UMass DCOE work collaboratively on projects.  “When new discoveries are published in scientific journals, it’s exciting to read it and know that work I’ve done helped achieve successful results, and see progress is being made in these areas,” Pam said.  “I always want to know how the work we’re doing in the lab can eventually apply to helping people.”

A recent collaboration she’s very proud of was COVID-19 research during the pandemic which was conducted using mice that she personally “humanized.”

Pam’s Favorites:

  • TV Show: Big Bang Theory
  • Movies: Marvel Films
  • Author: Jefferson Bass (The Body Farm series)
  • Music: The 80’s

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