behind The Bench

Scientist faces two challenges: Finding grants and taming diabetes

For diabetes researcher Maggie Morris, PhD, her work in the lab often is the easy part.

“The ideas don’t take that much time to generate because you’re doing the research in the lab,” says Dr. Morris, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine. “You know where you want to go. You know what you want to test.”

Her challenges are related to paying for the research.

Like most scientists around the country, Dr. Morris is responsible for finding grant funds to support her work. There’s the sales pitch — enticing the potential funding agency to take a chance on her idea. Then there’s the seemingly endless paperwork. And every funding agency has different requirements and guidelines. When collaborators are involved, their home institutions can be slow to provide needed details. She reads constantly to keep up with the latest research findings.

“I’m not in the lab as much as I would like to be,” she admits.

Whether behind the bench or behind the computer, Dr. Morris is focused on type 1 diabetes. In type 1, people depend on insulin injections to stay alive. Type 1 develops suddenly and often attacks children and young adults.

Dr. Morris is part of a worldwide research consortium testing the theory that a virus causes type 1 diabetes.

“We see evidence of a virus in patients, but we don’t know if that virus is actually causing the disease, or are patients with diabetes just more susceptible to be infected with these viruses. That’s one huge question that remains right now.”

Maggie Morris, PhD

Dr. Morris is working to understand the mechanism that causes type 1 diabetes and then piece together the sequence of its progression. “That’s the end goal. Where can we intervene to prevent the disease? Can we intervene to halt the disease or reverse it?”

If it turns out that a virus is to blame for instigating type 1 diabetes, Dr. Morris believes a vaccine will be the most effective way to stop it.

She finds motivation in her many friends affected by the disease and in her innate curiosity about how the body works.

“It’s the people, and it’s the science, too,” she says. “It’s that question of what’s going on, the challenge of coming up with these ideas and then being able to test them.”