Researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the USA led by Dr. Abdel Rahim Hamad have won a prestigious $1 million grant award from The W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles in the USA. The Hopkins team is one of only five research teams in the USA who have won this award in July 2019. The three-year grant will be used to; (1) Define the identity of the X cell, which is a new lymphocyte that is a hybrid between the B and T cells. (2) Analyze their role in the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease that strikes early in life and destroys beta cells of islets Langerhans, the only source of insulin in the body. There is no cure for type 1 diabetes and patients depend on insulin replacement therapy for survival.

Discovery of X cells was very surprising to scientists in the field of immunology as it has long been thought that T cell and B cells are the only cell types of the adaptive immune cells. The discovery of X cells thus opens new areas of research particularly in the field of autoimmunity and lays the foundation for answering key questions that have been elusive for understanding using current paradigms.

The W.M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by William Myron Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company, with the goal of generating far-reaching benefits for humanity. The program seeks to fund high-risk/high-impact work by researchers with the potential to lay the groundwork for new paradigms, technologies, and discoveries that will save lives, provide innovative solutions and add to our collective understanding of the world. To make grant determinations, the Foundation relies upon a wide range of input, including assessments by its professional staff, site visits (where appropriate), peer reviews, the latest available scientific information, and presentations by experts in scientific, medical and health and human service fields. Usually top universities in USA are invited to nominate three researchers for the award. Universities select three strong proposals from a pool of internal competitors and then Keck foundation selects one application for a final phase of the national competition. Selected applicants and their respective teams give presentations to the Keck award committee which then selects and recommends top applicants to the board of trustees who select winners.

The Johns Hopkins research team includes collaborators from Harvard University, Columbia University, IBM, Des Moines University and University of Colorado.

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