Investigator Spotlight: January 2015
Shannon Wallet, PhD
Dr. Wallet is an associate professor at the University of Florida. Dr. Wallet joined nPOD in 2012.
- Tell us about your education and background – where are you from, where did you go to school?
I was born and raised in North Carolina where I went to undergrad at NC State where I majored in Biology, after which I received my certification in Clinical Laboratory Science from Duke University. I worked as a Clinical Laboratory Scientist for about five years after which I returned to graduate school and received my PhD from UNC-CH.
- Where do you currently work and what is your position? What does a “day in the life” look like for you?
I am currently a tenured Associate Professor at the University of Florida where my main job responsibility is to run a funded productive research program. My research program is aimed at deciphering the innate immune mechanisms involved in the initiation and exacerbation of autoimmunity and auto-inflammation. I am also responsible for teaching and service to the University. Specifically, I teach Immunology to graduate and professional students. I am also the faculty advisor for a student run research group here at UF. As far as external service to the profession, I am an associate editor and reviewer for multiple journals as well as a member of the ADA study section and president of the local chapter of the AADR.
- Why diabetes? How did you get involved in diabetes and/or what made you want to work in diabetes research?
My training in diabetes research started in graduate school under the direction of Roland Tisch, PhD at UNC-CH. His commitment to his research and this disease process was (and is) very contagious. He and his work ethic were exceptional models for my research career which continue to this day. After twelve years in diabetes research, I am still fascinated by the immunological processes that lead to the manifestation of Type 1 Diabetes. In addition, I strongly feel that by unraveling the mysteries of the initiating immunological processes that we can make a significant impact in the quality of the lives of those affected by the class of diseases which are under the umbrella of T1D.
- Tell us about your research.
One of the major questions we still don’t have an answer to is why some people who are genetically predisposed for development of T1D don’t progress and why others do. In addition, why there are different timings for the progression of this disease (i.e. why are some faster than others). Our thoughts are that these differences are due to differences in environmental experiences. It is important to note that we feel that these different environmental experiences can be big or small (i.e. living in different areas, eating different foods, or infection with different organisms). Thus, my laboratory studies the communication of the immune system with the environment at the largest environmental interface within our body, the gastrointestinal track. We feel that if we can understand the difference in this communication that occurs in T1D and how it shapes the immune system, we can not only figure out the initiating events of this disease process, but design better therapies and even preventive treatments to curb the disease process.
- What are your thoughts on the progress being made in T1D research as a whole?Overall I do believe that significant progress is being made in understanding a lot of the nuances to the disease process associated with T1D. I think it is sometimes frustrating to those who feel a cure nor a very successful treatment has not yet been achieved. While that is still a major goal for the field, as mentioned, it is becoming clear that T1D is a class of diseases and so a one treatment fits all may not be appropriate and thus evaluating the efficacy of therapies may need to be done on a less global level. Unfortunately, at this time it is not possible to tell which individual would be a good candidate for which therapy. The good news is that there are people trying to figure this out and thus progress in this area should be made soon which I feel will greatly improve the field of therapeutics.
- Why is diabetes research so important?
As mentioned above, it is becoming clear that T1D is not a singular disease, but rather a classification of diseases whose clinical outcomes are similar. Thus the mechanisms which result in the clinical manifestation are extremely complicated and extraordinarily different. Therefore, in order to provide the most appropriate and effective treatments and or therapies as well as to identify potential screening protocols and, ultimately, cures for disease, research involving numerous fields of study must be undertaken. In addition, the number of people directly and indirectly affected by the T1D epidemic is growing every day and although T1D unto itself may not be a deadly disease its secondary complications most defiantly lead to increased morbidity and mortality. Therefore, additional avenues of research investigating these secondary complications, their mechanism and treatments in the context of T1D are also needed in order to improve the quality of life for those affected.
- Do you have anything extra you would like to share? Is there anyone to thank or acknowledge?
I have been blessed to have many excellent mentors during my career including Roland Tisch, PhD, Mark Atkinson, PhD, Mike Clare-Salzler, PhD and Clayton Mathews, PhD. In addition, support from institutions such as the ADA and the JDRF have made our research possible. In particular support from the JDRF for the nPOD organization was integral for us to pursue our efforts in evaluating the contribution of the GI track in shaping immune responses in T1D. Without this resource it would be very difficult (if not impossible) for us to translate our findings to the human disease process.
- When you’re not working, what do you like to do for fun?
For the most part, I enjoy anything that lets me spend time outdoors: hiking, running, road riding, mountain biking and kayaking to name a few. I also enjoy gardening and watching any sport except basketball.