I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) when I was 9 years old.  One day I was a considered a healthy child and the next I was I learning how to manage a life-changing and chronic disease.  My parents were bombarded with books and other resources on how to treat my disease and how to help me cope with this condition.  The organization that emerged from the chaos was JDRF.  My mom first heard about it at her support group of mothers of children with T1D called The Sugar Mommas.  At the time JDRF’s formal name was the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, but today it is simply JDRF to reflect the organization’s commitment to helping the entire T1D community.  I will be a lifelong supporter of JDRF as they work towards their mission of curing T1D.

JDRF’s overarching goal is to improve the lives of individuals with and individuals affected by type 1 diabetes.  A major part of this is improving treatment and searching for a cure. JDRF is the leading funder in type 1 diabetes research worldwide.  It is currently funding research in 34 different states and 20 different countries.  About $37M of JDRF funding is granted in the state of Massachusetts alone. Here at The Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center (VIC) at Massachusetts General Hospital, we are working on one of the 43 projects that are currently receiving JDRF funding within the state. However, an equally as significant part of JDRF’s mission is supporting the children, teens, and adults through their diagnosis, their relationships, and their daily lives.  This organization provides a community and support system for families affected by this disease, as well as internship opportunities.

I first saw information about the JDRF Students with Diabetes Internship on Facebook.  I applied on a whim, thinking if I could find a local opportunity in Virginia, I would take it.  However, when I was contacted by VIC in January of this year, I was shocked.  I knew there was no way I could pass up an opportunity to intern in Boston, one of the biotech hubs of the country.  So, I accepted the offer and set my accommodations. Now here I am finishing up my last couple weeks.

My time here at VIC has been nothing less than life-changing.  I came here simply to gain some exposure to laboratory research, but I am leaving with a wide array of experiences.  I have particularly enjoyed working directly with the JDRF funded project.  For the first time stem cell derived beta cells are being implanted into large animal models in hopes of reversing diabetes.  From refining my skill of reading scientific papers to celebrating an academic promotion of one of the senior scientists over bubbly on a Friday afternoon, I have gained much more from this experience than I ever could have imagined.

Perhaps the most unexpected part of my experience at VIC was the VIC Polo Classic that was held on July 29th.  I had never seen the sport of polo played.  All that I knew about the sport, I learned from the polo scene in Pretty Woman. The event was held on a beautiful Sunday.  It was an afternoon full of class and great conversation.

I was honored to learn that I was chosen as the 2018 Will Tankard Scholar. Each summer this scholarship is given to a VIC summer intern to memorialize the former USA polo player. Will lost his life on his way to this match 3 years ago.  He is described as being courageous and kind-hearted. I am honored to have received this award and to meet Will’s stepbrother, Nick Snow. This award recognizes the courage it takes for me to live with T1D every day, and I plan on memorializing him by continuing to push myself towards life and career goals.

Rachel Shulmister

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