Project Info

Engineering the Pancreas Microenvironment to Treat Type 1 Diabetes

Nikki Farnsworth

Project Goals and Description:

In the pancreas the islet is surrounded by a specialized protein scaffold called the extracellular matrix (ECM) that regulates cell survival and insulin secretion. The ECM surrounding the islet consists mainly of laminin-10 and type IV collagen (COL IV) which provide mechanical and biochemical cues to the β-cells. During the onset of T1D, immune cells infiltrate the pancreas and the peri-islet ECM is degraded, leading to β-cell death. While changes to the peri-islet ECM have been well documented in T1D, the role of these ECM changes to T1D pathogenesis are largely unknown. The goal of this study is to determine how changes to the peri-islet ECM composition and stiffness impact islet function and survival. This project will utilize a biomimetic polymer scaffold functionalized with ECM molecules that mimic the environment of the pancreas to encapsulate and culture islets in 3D. Specifically, this project will focus on the role of collagen IV in regulating islet survival in type 1 diabetes. This project is highly clinically relevant as the results from this study will help us to engineering better and more targeted therapies for patients with type 1 diabetes. This is multidisciplinary project that combines biomaterials, quantitative microscopy, cell biology, and biochemistry. Due to the translational nature of this project, the student will also have opportunities to interact with physicians and scientists on the Anschutz Medical Campus to further broaden their experience.

More Information:

Grand Challenge: Engineer better medicines.
  Farnsworth Lab - Colorado School of Mines Please refer to the following review article: doi: 10.1038/s41578-019-0112-5  

Primary Contacts:

<table width="100%"> <tbody> <tr> <td>Nikki Farnsworth, <a href=""></a> | Chelsea Garcia, <a href=""></a></td> </tr> </tbody> </table>

Student Preparation


There are no specific qualifications required for the completion of this project, as it is such a multidisciplinary project my lab will teach the student all of the skills required to complete the project. We would prefer someone with an interest in bioengineering, but previous experience in the field is not required.




  Biomaterial synthesis and characterization, cell culture, western blot, immunohistochemistry, live cell fluorescent microscopy techniques, quantitative image analysis, software development for quantitative image analysis, presentation skills, communication skills.


  I (the PI) will meet the student formally once per week to discuss the progress of the project and will meet as needed to teach specific skills needed for completion of the project. The student will be expected to present once per semester at our weekly lab meeting, which I will help the student prepare for. The student will also attend seminars on the Mines and Anschutz campuses as a part of our lab to expand their knowledge of biomedical research. The student will work directly with one of the graduate students in my lab on a day to day basis for guidance with their project and lab etiquette.


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