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Bioinformatician Mason Tarpley Named Cammett Scholar in Type 1 Diabetes Research

Date Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2021

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Mason Tarpley has been named the Cammett Scholar for Type 1 Diabetes Research at UMass Chan Medical School’s Diabetes Center of Excellence. His role as a bioinformatician is to analyze the immense amount of data generated in the laboratories of David Harlan, MD, Sally Kent, PhD, and Jennifer Wang, MD.

The Cammett Scholar award is supported by a generous gift from UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence Visiting Advocacy Committee member John Cammett.  Mr. Cammett has type 1 diabetes and is inspired by his mother who has lived with T1D for 60 years.

Mason deciphers and categorizes relevant information from biological data using methods explore and manage that data. Bioinformatics combines molecular biology, genetics, computer science, mathematics, and statistics.

“I’ve always enjoyed science,” he said. At Truman State University in Missouri, Mason took a genetics course and became very interested in it. “That’s where I first learned and began doing RNA-sequencing analysis.”  He received his bachelor's degree in biology before earning a master's degree in molecular genetics & cell biology from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Each of the research labs he supports generate a varied assortment of data that requires analysis, but the common goal is to understand the root cause of type 1 diabetes (T1D). “What interests me about type 1 diabetes research is that it combines immunology and genetics,” he said. “It’s a complex disease with many unanswered questions.” 

The Harlan Lab explores the biology of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells and why they’re being destroyed in people with T1D. Sambra Redick, PhD, a senior research scientist in the Harlan Lab has developed techniques to isolate individual islets from pancreas samples of deceased human donors. She then separates individual cells within those islets and performs single cell RNA-sequencing to determine the transcriptome of each of those cells. The transcriptome is the entire collection of RNA sequences in a cell. Mason then analyzes the vast amounts of data produced from the RNA-seq to determine patterns of gene expression for each cell.  

The Kent Lab investigates the autoimmune response in T1D to understand why and how specific immune cells, called T cells, attack beta cells.   

The Wang Lab uses a rat model to study how innate immune responses contribute to autoimmune disease processes such as type 1 diabetes.

By identifying, defining, categorizing, and comparing the different cell types within the pancreatic islets of people both with and without T1D, the scientists examine the figures and results derived from the gene expression data to see what they can learn from it. In addition to managing, processing, and analyzing genomic and molecular data, Mason can also access existing scientific databases for the scientists to use in conjunction with their own findings.

About Mason

Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Mason is eager to explore all that Massachusetts and New England has to offer.

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Favorites

Hobbies/Activities: Golf, soccer and traveling. Mason and his wife backpacked through Europe for their honeymoon. Growing up in the Midwest he’s been to the Rocky Mountains several times. His goal is to visit all 50 states.

TV Shows: The Big Bang Theory - “I can relate to the nerdiness.”

Movies: Marvel and DC comics films

Music: Enjoys all music, depending on his mood. Will listen to anything from rock to rap “and of course country, being from the Midwest.”

Book/Author: Non-fiction books about U.S. history and military, particularly the Revolutionary War, Civil War and World War II. Favorite book growing up was Johnny Tremain

Food: BBQ, Kansas City style of course.

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