Kerry McLaughlin – University of Oxford

Dr Kerry McLaughlin is based at the University of Oxford, where she is researching the role of a particular protein in the onset of type 1 diabetes.

Dr McLaughlin’s project aims to look at how a protein present on the beta cells – called tetraspanin-7 – can be used to predict who will develop type 1 diabetes. She will also look at the role tetraspanin-7 usually plays in the pancreas, in order to understand why this protein could be an important target for the immune system when type 1 diabetes develops.

How did you get involved in type 1 research?

After completing a PhD in Immunology, I had the opportunity to work as a postdoc in the Diabetes Research Group at King’s College London. Under the supportive mentorship of Dr Michael Christie, I researched how different immune cells interact with each other during the early stages of type 1 diabetes. This information is useful for designing potential new therapies and understanding what type of approaches might be most successful. During this time, we also identified a new molecule found in insulin-producing cells that is attacked by the immune system.

Has JDRF’s support made a difference?

Absolutely! My first postdoc position was funded by a JDRF project grant. I am now starting to develop my own research group at the University of Oxford, which JDRF is supporting through an Early Career Fellowship. People are often surprised to hear that charity funding plays a significant role in supporting scientific research in the UK.

What keeps you motivated in your work as a scientist?

I really enjoy the day-to-day challenges of laboratory experiments, and celebrating the small victories when you get an exciting new result. As a scientist, I don’t see patients regularly, but I find talking to families who live with type 1 diabetes incredibly inspiring. They motivate me to push my research to the next level so that I can make a real difference to their lives.

What is your hope for your research in the future?

My research is currently focused on understanding the importance of tetraspanin-7, the molecule we recently identified as a target of immune attack, in the development of type 1 diabetes. I hope that by better understanding the mechanisms that are important for initiating and progressing the destructive immune response that occurs in type 1 diabetes, we will be able to come up with new, intelligent approaches to stop this from happening.

When not in the lab, how do you spend your free time?

I have a little boy so we spend a lot of time jumping in muddy puddles and going for bike rides! I also play netball, and relax by reading the latest thrillers on my kindle.