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Generous Donation from the Arthur M. and Martha R. Pappas Foundation Advances UMass Diabetes Research Capabilities

Date Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Arthur Pappas, MD, famed Boston Red Sox team physician and a pioneer in the field of sports medicine

The Diabetes Center of Excellence (DCOE) at the UMass Chan Medical School received a $250,000 donation from the Arthur M. and Martha R. Pappas Foundation.  The funds will be used to purchase and maintain a state-of-the-art flow cytometer.

“Flow cytometry technology provides rapid analysis of single cells,” said David Harlan, MD, the William and Doris Krupp Professor of Medicine and co-director of the UMass Chan DCOE.  “Our research team uses complex flow cytometric approaches to characterize cells and their functional and signaling properties with the ultimate goal being a cure for diabetes.”  DCOE scientists will be using the new 5-laser flow cytometer to provide quantitative data on immune cell and pancreatic islet cell phenotypes.  The instrument will facilitate the analysis of samples and greatly expand the team’s capacity to rapidly screen experimental samples.

“These sophisticated machines utilize lasers to produce light signals that are read by detectors, generating electronic data that can be carefully analyzed,” said Dale Greiner, PhD, the Dr. Eileen L. Berman and Stanley I. Berman Foundation Chair in Biomedical Research, Professor of Molecular Medicine and co-director of the UMass Chan DCOE.  “This new machine allows us to analyze more than 20 unique parameters on a single cell simultaneously.”

Five UMass Chan DCOE laboratories are also members of the JDRF Center of Excellence in New England led by Dr. Doug Melton, director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.  The international diabetes community is particularly thrilled by the recent announcement by Vertex Pharmaceuticals that laboratory produced beta-like cells, using techniques developed in the Melton lab, function when transplanted into a human being.  Currently, that patient must take immunosuppressive agents to prevent the cells from being rejected.  UMass DCOE scientists are collaborating with colleagues throughout New England and supported by the JDRF to genetically engineer those cells so they evade immune destruction, eliminating the need for immunosuppression.

“The addition of this flow cytometer will greatly facilitate that and other related work,” added Dr. Harlan.  “Other DCOE scientists are investigating factors that initiate the autoimmune attack that causes type 1 diabetes, as well as studying mechanisms leading to diabetes complications.  This new instrument will be a work horse, used for those studies as well.”

The UMass DCOE has previously benefitted tremendously from the philanthropy of the Pappas Foundation. For example, another generous gift from the Pappas Foundation in 2014 allowed the launch of the UMass Memorial Blood Glucose Management Service (BGMS) which oversees the care of inpatients with diabetes.  The Pappas Foundation provided the funding that allowed the BGMS to hire its first nurse practitioner so that the BGMS care model could be evaluated. The service has been wildly successful by virtually any measure.  It is now staffed by a team of 3 physicians and 4 nurse practitioners all supported by sophisticated tools to facilitate inpatient diabetes care delivery. By ensuring diabetic patients’ blood glucose values are well controlled during hospitalization, the service has markedly decreased such patients’ length of stay. The BGMS has been a particular godsend during the COVID epidemic that has been particularly harsh for those with diabetes.

A plaque honoring Dr. Arthur Pappas is displayed on the Wall of Honor leading to the Diabetes Center of Excellence on the second floor of the Ambulatory Care Center at the UMass Memorial Medical Center.  He served as a United States Navy Medical Officer before becoming the founding Chair of the Department of Orthopedics and Physical Rehabilitation at the UMass Medical Center.  For 25 years Dr. Pappas served as the Medical Director for the Boston Red Sox.  Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski and Dennis Eckersley credit him with helping them recover from injuries that allowed them to fulfill their successful careers. 

In the following video, Yastrzemski, Eckersley & others describe the enormous affect Dr. Pappas had on them.