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Ildem Akerman and family
Dr Ildem Akerman

Dr Ildem Akerman, from the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research, University of Birmingham, is the recipient of the highly respected RD Lawrence Fellowship Award from Diabetes UK for her research in identifying factors important to generate beta cells from stems cells in a laboratory.

The award, worth £525,000 for four and half years, will enable her research group to study the generation of functional beta cells in a laboratory, promising new therapies for diabetes, potentially improving the lives of millions.

Each cell has a unique make up of proteins, the building blocks of a cell. This unique make up dictates the identity of the cell, whether it is a beating heart cell or an insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cell. The research group will study the factors that define the unique signature of the pancreatic beta cell in order to help them understand how to make a beta cell in a dish. 

Kamini Shah, Head of Research Funding at Diabetes UK, said: “This award highlights our commitment to investing in the future leaders of diabetes research and we’re proud to support Dr Akerman’s innovative work, which will be vital to unlock better ways of making lab-grown insulin-producing cells and help us move closer to a cure.”

Dr Akerman will be collaborating with University of Birmingham colleague Professor David Hodson testing the functionality of lab-grown pancreatic beta cells and Dr Paloma Garcia on pluripotent stem cells. Other international collaborators include Professor Zhidong Tu, Assistant Professor at Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Professor Timo Otonkoski at the University of Helsinki.

Dr Akerman stated: “I am honoured and humbled to receive such a prestigious award and am looking forward to use this as a platform to work towards a potential new therapy for diabetes.”

Dr Akerman has also recently published a co-corresponding paper in the journal Nature Communications, which was featured as Editor’s choice article. The study identified a novel genomic element in the human genome at which DNA replication initiates, which can be utilized to generate a novel type of gene therapy vectors.

In addition to the above significant achievements, Dr Akerman has also become a mother for the second time!