The University of Florida is the primary coordinating agency for a unique research project entitled nPOD. The Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes program is a collaborative type 1 diabetes research project funded by JDRF that supports scientific research investigators by providing, without cost, rare and difficult to obtain tissues beneficial to their research.
Together, Dr. Irina Kusmartseva, Ph.D., and Tiffany Heiple, BS help lead the nPOD Lab team effort at the University of Florida, which is the primary organ donor tissue collection site. They work around the clock to collect and process donated organs and tissues, taking call 24 hours a day x 365 days a year. They also have the opportunity to work with a large network of research investigators around the world; advising them on the best cases for their specific research and ensuring their needs are met.
We sat down with Irina and Tiffany to learn more about their roles and experiences in the nPod lab, how they learned about this program, and discover the best parts of what they get the chance to do on a daily basis.
Prior to coming to the University of Florida, where and what did you study?
- Irina: Tomsk Medical University in Russia, PhD in Immunology
- Tiffany: University of Wyoming, Chemistry
What did you do before coming to work at nPOD?
- I: Prior to my time at nPOD I worked in tumor immunology research. Specifically, we were focused on the mechanisms of immunosuppression in cancer patients and worked to develop an experimental platform for screening potential molecular therapeutic targets for cancers affecting the lungs and kidneys.
- T: Before becoming a member of the nPOD team, I worked for the Department of Health in Denver, Colorado where I was involved in outbreak investigation and food safety. Prior to working for the Denver Department of Health, she worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a quality assurance chemist.
How did you learn about nPOD?
- I: Having spent many years as a researcher working with human tissue, I understood the challenges associated with obtaining such a valuable resource. When I found out about nPOD I was fascinated by the organization the work they were doing. Since I joined the nPOD team in 2011, we have continued to expand to meet the needs of our investigators and we welcomed Tiffany to our team in 2012.
- T: I moved to Gainesville, FL with my fiancé who is working towards a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. During my job search I discovered nPOD and I saw an opportunity to expand my experience to pathology and immunology as well as to be part of an organization that was dedicated to the concept of open source.
What do you enjoy most about working for nPOD?
- I & T: nPOD is a unique organization with an innovative approach to diabetes research. We work internationally, providing tissues to our associated investigators and encouraging collaboration. Although we reach around the world, our team is a close-knit family and we work together to maintain an unparalleled culture of collaboration.
What do you like to do in your time off?
- I: When I am not at work I enjoy spending time with my family, taking trips to the beach, traveling, and gardening
- T: In my free time I like to watch movies, hike, cycle, and explore Florida.
Irina Kusmartseva is an immunologist with over 11 years of research experience. Prior to joining University of Florida, Dr. Kusmartseva worked at Duke University Medical Center, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Mount Sinai Medical School. She has unique experience with the molecular and primary cell culture techniques and is an author of several articles published in the Journal of Immunology, Journal of Clinical Oncology and Journal of Leukocyte Biology. She received her PhD in Immunology at the Tomsk Medical University, Russia. Her key area of expertise includes mechanisms of immunoregulation in inflammation, cancer and autoimmune diseases.