Shannon Townsend, PhD

Shannon Townsend, PhD

Postdoc Research Scholar


Shannon was born and raised in Queens, New York. They completed their B.A. in Neuroscience at Amherst College in 2014, and then completed their PhD in 2023 in the laboratory of Dr. Maureen Gannon in the department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt University. Their doctoral research focused on characterizing the cellular microenvironment in which the matricellular protein cellular communication network factor 2 (CCN2) promotes insulin-producing β-cell proliferation, with a specific focus on settings that induce β-cell stress. In the summer of 2023, Shannon joined the Hughes Lab to continue ongoing research focused on the role of β-cell cilia in the endoplasmic reticulum stress response.

Research Interests

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by prolonged hyperglycemia due in part to dysfunctional islet cell hormone secretion. Previous findings by their mentor, Dr. Jing Hughes, demonstrated that β-cell cilia play a critical role in islet cell hormone secretion via islet paracrine interactions. Further findings also revealed that loss of β-cell cilia induces the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) unfolded protein stress response during basal conditions. Using previous knowledge from their doctoral research, Shannon is focusing on further characterizing the ER stress response in islets lacking β-cell cilia, and investigating the mechanism by which loss of β-cell cilia exacerbates the ER stress response in the presence of pharmacological cell stressors. Outside of this project, Shannon is further investigating islet autocrine and paracrine signaling after loss of β-cell cilia. They are specifically focused on the hormones insulin and serotonin, which have been demonstrated to modulate islet cell hormone secretion via their respective receptors, both of which are localized to β-cell cilia.