I am a lucky JDRF volunteer. I get to learn all about Type 1 diabetes research, have it translated for me into my own language (which is “regular person who does not know big words”), and then I get to go all over the country sharing news about Type 1 diabetes research with others who speak my language.
With JDRF walk season in full force and folks still training to do rides it seemed like a fitting time to take a look at where the funds being raised are going. And so here are some of the JDRF-funded research highlights, along with supporting comments from some of the top JDRF brass.
A pocket full of islets: Encapsulation isn’t a new concept. For more than a decade researchers have been working on the idea of placing functioning islet cells into the body of a person with Type 1 diabetes in a way that protects the islets from the immune system without the use of harsh immunosuppressants. Now we are hearing a whole lot about islet cell encapsulation because, it’s happening.
ViaCyte, a company in California, has just started human clinical trials on a kind of teabag-like device with a plastic opening that would, if successful, allow functioning islet cells to be placed into the body of a person with Type 1 diabetes – allowing them to secrete insulin when needed, but just hang out and wait, totally protected, when not needed. The device would be placed just under the skin of a person with Type 1 diabetes and hopefully only need to be replaced once every 18 to 24 months. That’s it. If this works, that’s all a person with Type 1 diabetes may need to do to treat their diabetes. A little day surgery every two years or so.
The current trial involves only nine people and is only in California. Why? Because this part of the trial is to prove safety to the FDA. Once that is proven, ViaCyte plans to launch a multi-centered, many enrollee trial. Stay tuned.
Note, ViaCyte is not the only thing happening in islet cell replacement. A company in Israel called Beta 02 Technologies is working on a similar device that also pumps oxygen to the cells constantly. And researchers at the University of Miami are working on the novel idea of protecting each individual islet cell with its own lining. Think of it as kind of “shrink wrapping” each cell. Note recent article about the technology.
The Artificial Pancreas Project: The Artificial Pancreas Project (APP) was really just a twinkle in someone’s eye less than a decade ago. But today, it’s the real deal. Real human clinical trials – on adults and kids alike, are happening all over. A large group of adults is about to do an outpatient, long-term trial (as in six weeks!), where for that time, a combination of pump, CGM and smart phone will do almost all their diabetes work for them.
This is huge. This is life changing. This is not a cure. But imagine a world where our daily diabetes burden is so minimal, we only have to think of it fleetingly. And now, thanks to a new partnership between JDRF and a company called Tidepool, the steps toward making this not just something that works in a controlled setting but something that exists and is attainable for all of us, are happening.
“The recently announced Tidepool partnership will enable improvements in artificial pancreas development, helping researchers to focus on algorithms, trials and effectiveness,” said JDRF’s Dr. Aaron Kowalski, vice president, Artificial Pancreas. “With clinical testing of new AP systems accelerating into more real-world settings, there is a greater need for researchers to more easily and remotely track their performance and collect the data necessary to advance their development.”
Type 1 diabetes prevention: Type 1 diabetes prevention is something we all need to care about. First, what hurts more than hearing of a new diagnosis? Or learning of another family member diagnosed? Second, prevention is going to be part of the cure. When we figure out how to turn this around, we’re going to have to stop it from happening again.
JDRF is working on a few great things in the realm of Type 1 diabetes prevention: First, will we ever find out the cause of Type 1 diabetes? Right now JDRF has studies looking at possible environmental triggers, as well as looking at the gut and how it might play a role in the development of Type 1 diabetes. What if the bacteria in our gut play a role in Type 1 diabetes. And when we know what causes Type 1 diabetes, can we find a way to stop it from developing in the first place?
JDRF is researching how and when people are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Could there be a cost effective and meaningful way to diagnosis at an earlier point? Could there be a time when, if we know a person is in the early stages of Type 1 diabetes, we can take steps to stop it? With the advent of biomarkers to know who is susceptible to Type 1 diabetes, and with research on how to make this even more effective, perhaps we can closely monitor anyone at risk, and intervene to slow or stop the progression of Type 1 diabetes.
There is so much more going on, like figuring out how beta cells can regenerate themselves since we know most people with Type 1 diabetes still have some working beta cells…. it really does make me want to sing. With walks, rides and more happening, I hope more join in on the chorus.
*Diabetes research has come a long, long way: Do you know that Marjorie the dog was the first to survive on injected insulin? Look where we are 92 years later!*