‘Race to cure’ type 1 diabetes gets new boost

By Editor
7th December 2023
Diabetes UK, Good practice Research

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge has announced £2.9 million funding for two major research projects in Wales, in a bid to find a cure for type 1 diabetes. 

Leading scientists at Cardiff University are among six UK teams who today have been awarded prestigious grants totalling over £13 million.

This investment comes thanks to the historic £50 million pledge from the Steve Morgan Foundation, to accelerate promising research that could unlock life-changing new treatments for type 1 diabetes.   

More than 400,000 people in the UK are living with type 1 diabetes, including 16,000 people in Wales.

The Cardiff University researchers will lead multidisciplinary teams to investigate how to tackle the immune system attack at the root of type 1 diabetes using promising new treatments, called immunotherapies, which could prevent or slow the condition.  

Dr James Pearson, at Cardiff University, and team have been awarded funding to investigate how the time of day could impact the effectiveness of an immunotherapy treatment, named Interleukin-2 (IL-2).

They will study how immune cells, which help to protect insulin-producing beta cells from the type 1 diabetes immune attack, respond to IL-2 throughout the day.

This will help researchers to find the best time to give the treatment to stop type 1 diabetes in its tracks and safeguard beta cells.  

Dr Pearson said: I am thrilled to receive this funding for our research, which will expand our research group and move our research forward into clinical practice.

“This research will identify how immune cells vary over the course of the day, but also how well they respond to therapy. This knowledge will enable us to improve the success of therapies for people with, and at risk of, type 1 diabetes by identifying when best to administer therapy.”

Dr Danijela Tatovic, also at Cardiff University, will lead a team to explore if combining multiple immunotherapies, which target different parts of the immune system, could make them more effective at protecting beta cells.

She will run a clinical trial testing two promising immunotherapies, abatacept and IL-2, in people recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes to understand how best to combine them and lay the groundwork needed to make the treatment available outside of a research setting.  

Dr Tatovic said: As a clinical diabetologist, I witness the struggle that people with type 1 diabetes go through on daily basis to achieve optimal control of their blood sugars. This is changing.

“We are on the cusp of making a fundamental difference to type 1 diabetes treatment, from burdensome insulin replacement to preserving a person’s own insulin.”

She added: “I am delighted and very grateful to the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge for giving me and my team the opportunity to be part of the scientific community that will make this happen for our patients.”   

Rachel Connor, Director of Research Partnerships at JDRF UK, said: “We’re delighted to announce the projects supported by the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge ‘Root Causes of type 1 diabetes area today.

“Unravelling the biological mechanisms that drive the immune system attack which destroys beta cells is crucial to unlocking new approaches to treating type 1 diabetes.

She added: “Both research projects stem from new collaborations, bringing together scientists to tackle new challenges to improve life for people with type 1 diabetes.

“These projects aim to drive change in the way we treat type 1 diabetes and alter the interplay between the immune system and the vital cells of the pancreas by protecting beta cells from immune attack as effectively as possible.”

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said: “We’re in a hugely exciting period for the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, as today we welcome more exceptional scientists who will lead multi-disciplinary teams to drive forward to this pioneering initiative and build momentum towards our ambitious goal. 

“The research we’re getting underway in Wales brings with it fresh hope for everyone living with type 1 diabetes.

“Immunotherapies that combat the type 1 diabetes immune system attack hold huge promise to slow the progression of the condition in people newly diagnosed or at high risk, and to bring us closer to a cure.

“We look forward to seeing how these projects break new ground and help to get us there faster.”

Steve and Sally Morgan, Founders of the Steve Morgan Foundation, said:This is an exciting moment in our partnership with Diabetes UK and JDRF UK.

“We are astounded by the innovation and vision of the new projects and look forward to seeing how the research helps us realise our ambition of transforming the lives of people living with type 1 diabetes.”

Summaries of each newly funded project including the two Cardiff University ones can be found here.

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge was established following the Steve Morgan Foundation’s generous £50 million donation into type 1 diabetes research.

Over five years the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is funding collaborative research with the greatest potential to lead to life-changing new treatments.

 So far, over £18 million has been allocated to exceptional research teams in the UK, who are leading the race towards a cure for type 1 diabetes. 

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