BME Ph.D. candidate awarded NIH F31 NRSA Fellowship

Matthew Becker, Ph.D. candidate in the Phelps Lab, received a 3-year $300K National Institutes of Health (NIH) Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship for his project titled, Engineered Tolerogenic Exosomes for Treating Type 1 Diabetes Autoimmunity.

The prestigious fellowship covers full tuition, stipend, and educational expenses. Becker’s mentor on the project is Dr. Edward Phelps, assistant professor & J. Crayton Pruitt Family Term Fellow.

The objective of this project is to engineer an exosome-based therapeutic platform to counteract pancreatic beta-cell autoimmunity as a strategy to treat or prevent type 1 diabetes (T1D).

The prevalence of T1D in the U.S. continues to increase, despite growing knowledge of the pathogenesis and natural history of the disease, as well as better treatment options. Therefore, there is a significant need for a curative therapy that addresses the underlying autoimmune aspects of the disease by interfacing directly with autoreactive T cells. Exosomes are small (30-150nm) biologically active membrane vesicles secreted by most cell types that can interact directly with T cells to control immune outcomes. The key element of this project is directing multimeric, exosome bound immunosuppressive signals in an antigen specific manner to suppress diabetogenic T cells, thus addressing autoreactivity without compromising systemic immunity. This research will lay the foundation for patient-personalized tolerance treatments in autoimmunity that can impart much of the functionality of adoptive immune cell therapies while providing an enhanced safety profile, shelf life, and accessibility to expand personalized medicine to population scales.