DRC & Research News

This page shares the latest news in T1D research and DRC’s community.

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Where is the Diabetes Research Connection Heading in 2020?

Our vision is to support innovative scientific inquiry until diabetes is eliminated. Since 2015, we have funded 24 innovative, peer-reviewed type 1 diabetes (T1D) projects and distributed over $1M directly to early-career scientists, building a pipeline of talented T1D researchers. 100% of funds designated for research go directly to the scientists’ lab and we are committed to continuing this in 2020.

Our main initiative in 2020, and the next decade, is to establish a foundation of sustainable funding. Two new ways we hope to accomplish it are:

  1. Blue Circle Leaders: Our current Blue Circle Leader Community includes 10 families who have pledged consistent support of our mission and vision. There are varying levels of partnership and all help us build a pipeline of new T1D researchers. As a Blue Circle Leader, you will have access to exclusive opportunities and resources. Read more about becoming a Blue Circle Leader here.
  2. Name a Research Project: Name an entire Research Project after your family, foundation or loved one affected by T1D. Funding an entire grant gives you exclusive access to the researcher for individual updates about the progress of their project and recognition in all published materials.

For a summary of the accomplishments in 2019, click here. We believe it takes a community to connect for a cure and together we make the difference!

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2019 Year in Review

With the generosity of our supporters, we funded seven innovative, peer-reviewed type 1 diabetes (T1D) projects, bringing the total to 24, and have several others in the pipeline that will go live on our website in early 2020. We are incredibly proud to share that one of our sponsored early-career scientists, Peter Thompson, Ph.D., is starting his own lab in Canada to further develop a significant breakthrough that may prevent T1D.

One of our new Scientific Review Committee (SRC) members, Holger Russ, Ph.D., from the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes at the University of Colorado shared a note that sums up the past year for us, “Congratulations on the record number of submissions, word is spreading, attesting to your great work funding important projects driven by junior investigators in the T1D space.”

Our 225 supporters partner with us in giving of their time, energy and resources and we couldn’t be more grateful for everything they gave in 2019. Our 10 Blue Circle Members, including the first-ever named research project funded by the Tarson Family, joined us this past year to ensure sustainable funding for DRC.

Below are some highlights from 2019:

In January, A Sweet Life: The Diabetes Magazine, recognized one of our new projects as one of the 6 Diabetes Research Studies to Watch in 2019, Marika Bogdani, MD, Ph.D., of the Benaroya Research Institute’s project, “Offensive ‘Blocking’ to Defeat T1D Before it Strikes!” This project seeks to uncover changes taking place in human islets that will indicate how to block diabetes before at-risk patients begin to exhibit symptoms.

Several of our partners hosted fundraisers in March. ‘Harrigan’s Hooligans against Diabetes’ hosted a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser in Chicago at an Irish pub and one of our favorite local Italian restaurants, Il Fornaio, gave back a portion of sales from one evening to support new T1D research.

We hosted our first ever Ladies Night in April. Women gathered to share their stories of life with or caring for someone with T1D. “I left that night with fresh hope in finding a cure and new energy to work together to achieve this.”

In May, the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation hosted a “Meet the Researchers” event where Peter Thompson, Ph.D., shared an exciting update about the research he’s been doing and the possibility of finding a way to prevent T1D.

In June, Youjia Hu, Ph.D., at the Yale University Diabetes Center, provided an update for his project, A Bacteria in the Gut May Predict T1D. “Our results not only support the recent findings by other investigators using fecal samples but also our results support our hypothesis that oral microbiota might be used as a predictive biomarker for human T1D. We are currently further analyzing the sequencing data (~3 million) and we are confident that we will have interesting findings in the next progress report.”

In July, we funded several new projects: A Safe and Cost-Effective Stem Cell Approach for Treating Diabetes, Haisong Liu, Ph.D., at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies; Looking Beyond Beta Cells for Management of T1D, Camila Lubaczeuski, Ph.D. at the University Of Miami; Mice to Men, YongKyung Kim, Ph.D., at the University Of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Barbara Davis Center For Diabetes.

The 2nd annual Del Mar Dance for Diabetes was in September. Over 350 people joined us in connecting for a cure and we raised nearly $400,000! Guests enjoyed the food, music, drinks, silent auction and dancing under the stars at the silent dance party.

In November, we partnered with Tiffany and Philip Rivers in the Change the Game campaign. Tiffany and Philip Rivers’ eldest son, Gunner, was diagnosed with T1D when he was just five years old. The Change the Game campaign raised funds for JDRF, Insulin for Life and DRC and helped raise awareness during National Diabetes Awareness Month.

In December, we completed our $1M research campaign by distributing $1M to new T1D research projects. We had a record number of submissions and will be posting the approved projects on our website soon. Check back to see the innovative projects approved in 2019 by our esteemed SRC. Our Co-Founder and Chair of the Board, David Winkler, spoke at the STEAM Leadership “Diabetes Day” at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. The event focused on educating and empowering high school students from San Diego, including Southeastern San Diego, around healthy living and future careers in research. Click here to watch David’s speech.

We are committed to funding innovative scientific inquiry until diabetes is eliminated and could not do what we do without the continued support of our community. Thank you for being a part of the DRC family. It takes a community to connect for a cure!

 

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Expanding Type 1 Diabetes Research Through Marmoset Models

It is not uncommon for researchers to use animal models for initial research before transitioning to human clinical trials. Many animals’ systems are biologically similar in nature to humans and respond in similar ways to various diseases and medications. Often mouse models are used for diabetes research, but other species such as nonhuman primates (NHP) are also advantageous. While various types of monkeys and baboons have been used to study diabetes pathogenesis and treatment, there was previously not a marmoset model.

In a recent study, researchers successfully induced type 1 diabetes mellitus in marmosets. They conducted a partial pancreatectomy and administered streptozotocin (STZ) to decrease and destroy insulin-producing beta cells. This led to the marmosets having higher sustained blood glucose levels (above 200 mg/dL) and the inability to manage their condition through natural insulin production. Instead, they were injected with exogenous human insulin which brought their glucose levels back into the target range. Researchers found that they had a high sensitivity to human insulin making them a valuable NHP model.

Multiple glucose and insulin tolerance tests were conducted to determine how the diabetic marmosets responded compared to normal marmosets and whether they would be suitable candidates for future testing regarding islet transplantation. Continuous glucose monitors (CGM) were used to compare normal marmosets with diabetic marmosets as well, further showing that diabetic marmosets had consistently higher blood glucose levels, especially following meals, much like humans with type 1 diabetes.

While additional research is necessary, researchers believe that marmoset models could play an integral role in type 1 diabetes research and the advancement of preclinical testing. They were able to effectively induce diabetes in the marmosets and control it using human insulin, so the next step would be to move to cell transplantation trials. Eventually these transplant models may translate to human clinical trials and enhance diabetes treatment options.

It is these types of studies and use of animal models that help to advance scientists’ understanding and treatment of type 1 diabetes and allow them to work toward a cure. Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is interested to see how marmoset models will influence the future of diabetes care.

DRC is committed to supporting early career scientists in pursuing novel, peer-reviewed research regarding type 1 diabetes. Researchers can receive up to $75K in funding for their projects allowing them to move forward with their work. Learn more about current projects and how to help by visiting http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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Exploring the Use of Targeted Proteins in Managing Type 1 Diabetes

Currently, the most effective treatment for type 1 diabetes is the administration of insulin, but this is not a perfect solution. Since the body is unable to produce enough – or in some cases any – insulin on its own, individuals are tasked with carefully determining when and how much they need to keep blood sugar levels in check. This in itself can be challenging, and too much or too little insulin can lead to potentially life-threatening hyper- or hypoglycemia.

In addition to controlling blood sugar, insulin also helps regulate ketones within the blood. Ketones are created when lipids are broken down by the liver because the body is lacking glucose. Increased ketone levels can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. Trouble controlling fat in the blood can put individuals at a greater risk for cardiovascular problems.

However, a recent study by researchers at the University of Geneva in Switzerland reveals that combining insulin with high doses of the protein S100A9 may improve regulation of glucose as well as lipids. Though it has only been tested in insulin-deficient diabetic mice thus far, the researchers are in the process of gaining approval for phase I human clinical trials. Other studies have already shown that there is a reduced risk of diabetes in individuals with higher levels of S100A9, so they are hopeful that this protein can play an integral role in diabetes management as well.

Another interesting discovery that the researchers made was that S100A9 was only effective when cells with TLR4 receptors were present as well. At this point, they are unsure exactly what the relationship is and why TLR4 is necessary for the process to work. However, their study leads the way toward reducing the amount of insulin necessary to effectively control blood glucose and ketone levels by combining it with the S100A9 protein.

Though not involved in this study, Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is excited to see how it progresses once human clinical trials begin as it has the potential to impact treatment for millions of people living with type 1 diabetes. The DRC supports the advancement of research and treatment through providing critical funding to early career scientists pursuing novel research studies for the disease. Find out how to support these efforts and learn more about current projects by visiting https://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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Islet Transplantation May Have Long-Term Benefits for Type 1 Diabetes.

Islet transplantation is not a new concept, but it is one that scientists are continually trying to refine and improve. A major challenge with this procedure is rejection or destruction of the transplanted cells. However, researchers followed up with a group of 28 patients who had undergone islet transplantation and found that 10 years later, there were still lasting benefits.

A recent study looked on how patients fared a decade after receiving transplants. Fourteen of the patients received only an islet transplant, while the other 14 had a kidney graft in addition to the islet transplant. Regardless of procedure, researchers found that “28% remained completely independent of exogenous insulin” after 10 years, a slight decrease from the 39% who were independent of insulin use after five years. However, even those participants who did return to needing insulin had improved glycemic control and a lower exogenous insulin requirement than prior to transplantation. In addition, they had fewer severe hypoglycemic events.

A major factor in the effectiveness of the transplant was graft function. Those individuals who had optimal graft function maintained insulin independence longer than those who had poorer graft function. Immunosuppression was used to help support graft survival, but there were some serious adverse events as a result. In the 28 participants, there were eight instances of infections or skin carcinomas and 11 diabetes-related events that were cardiovascular.

Five participants experienced symptomatic cardiovascular events and six experienced asymptomatic myocardial ischemia. One person died of a stroke. However, researchers report that “mortality rate in patients similar to those in the current study but who did not undergo islet transplantation is three to four times higher with causes of death largely being severe hypoglycemia or ischemic heart disease.”

It is encouraging to see that a decade after islet transplantation, participants are still experiencing positive outcomes in regarding to diabetes management, with some maintaining insulin independence. As researchers continue to learn more and are able to refine and improve islet transplantation, more patients may benefit long-term from this treatment option and potentially achieve insulin independence.

Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) stays abreast of the latest findings in the field and provides critical funding for early career scientists to pursue research related to type 1 diabetes. It is through this work that improved treatments become available and scientists enhance their understanding of the disease. Learn more about these efforts and how to support existing projects by visiting https://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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Could Closed-Loop Systems Improve Blood Glucose Management?

One of the latest technologies being tested for managing type 1 diabetes is a closed-loop system. This system uses a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to measure blood glucose levels. When blood sugar begins to rise outside of the target range, it sends information to an insulin pump to automatically administer insulin. When blood sugar begins to fall, insulin is not administered. It is a closed loop because the patient is not deciding when to inject insulin or how much, but rather the system does so automatically.

A recent study involving 168 individuals with type 1 diabetes between the ages of 14 and 71 were part of a six-month trial using a closed-loop system. One hundred and twelve people were randomly assigned to the closed-loop group while the remaining 56 people used a sensor-augmented pump and were considered the control group. All 168 participants completed the trial. There were no incidences of hypoglycemia and only one incidence of diabetic ketoacidosis, which occurred in the closed-loop group.

The results showed that the closed-loop group remained in the target range for glucose levels (70-180 mg/dL) a greater percentage of time than those in the control group. On average, their time in the target range increased from 61% to 71%, while the control group remained around 59%. In addition, the closed-loop group spent less time with glucose levels above 180 mg/dL or below 70 mg/dL. Throughout the duration of the six-month trial, participants in the closed loop group remained in closed-loop mode (with the system automatically managing glucose monitoring and insulin administration) a median of 90% of the time.

While the closed-loop system is not perfect, these findings show that it improved time spent in the target glucose range, which is desirable in diabetes management. It also reduces the manual tracking and input from individuals with type 1 diabetes in managing the disease. While more research and testing are needed, it is a step in the right direction toward developing what many refer to as an “artificial pancreas.”

Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is interested to see how this system will continue to advance and improve diabetes management in the future and continues to follow its progress.  These types of devices play an integral role in supporting individuals with T1D and helping them to maintain more normal blood glucose levels. The DRC supports early career scientists in pursing novel research studies geared toward improving understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of T1D with the goal of one day finding a cure. Learn more about these efforts and how to help by visiting http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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Arielle Schube World Diabetes Story

My story began during the summer of 2016, the summer before my freshman year of high school. In July, I went to camp for three weeks in San Bernardino, California. The first week of camp I went on a four-day hiking trip to Sedona, Arizona in 100-degree weather. During the hiking trip, I felt a slight cold coming on, I assumed it was from heat and physical exhaustion. When I returned to camp after the hiking trip, I found myself in my own personal hell. At night, I lay on the cold, bathroom floor tile because my body was too hot for my bed and I was too weak to climb down from the top bunk every time I felt the urge to throw up. I could not take it anymore. I dragged myself to the nurse’s office and begged the nurse to take me to a hospital. After hours of convincing the camp nurse that something serious was happening to me, she finally agreed to take me down the mountain to the local hospital.

Not only was I screaming and moaning the entire drive down because the pain endured, but I was also experiencing small blackouts. By the time all the blood tests were completed, I was barely conscious. Soon, a doctor approached me and said, “You have type 1 diabetes.” I looked at him, then my counselor, and then the doctor again. I almost wanted to laugh and say, “What? This is a joke, this isn’t happening, right?” Then I looked at my counselor and said, “Where are my parents?”

The only memory I have after the doctor gave me the devastating news is lying in a helicopter with paramedics on either side of me. I spent the next five days in the hospital, the first two days in the ICU. When I was diagnosed, I was in a diabetic coma. I had Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), a serious life-threatening complication of diabetes where the body produces excess ketones and if left untreated, can be fatal. My blood sugar was over 800 mg/dL and my blood tests showed that I’d been living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) for three months prior to my diagnosis. At the age of 13 years old I advocated for myself, for my life and for my future. If I did not have the will to fight, it is very likely that I would not be here today. My near-death experience has changed my life and will continue to shape my daily actions, thoughts and feelings. My desire to live life to the fullest and courage to speak publicly about my disease is what motivates me every day to push through the difficult days living with T1D.

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The Story of a Combat Veteran Making a Difference in the T1D Community – Naithen Schirmer

Today is a day we honor all veterans and give thanks for their sacrifice. As a combat veteran, I know firsthand the sacrifices made daily by those who serve or have served. When I was a young boy, I would sit around and listen to the men in my family share their stories about their time in the military and knew that I would follow in their footsteps one day.

In 2009, I joined the Army and soon after was deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. While in Iraq, I advised and assisted in training the U.S. military personnel as well as the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Special Forces in night vision special electronics, thermal imagery and tactical satellite communications.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a local Iraqi towards the end of my time there. I was at Camp Liberty in Baghdad and the U.S. was shutting down the base and handing everything over to the Iraqi’s. During my time in Iraq, I did not interact much with the local civilians, but since we were transitioning this base over, I was able to. After connecting with one man in particular, I realized that we had the same goals. Even though we came from different cultures and were very different from each other, we both wanted the same things; love, to do right by our family and keep them happy, healthy and safe. Finding a connection like this in the middle of a war zone was rare and something I will always remember.

After four years of service with the storied 1st Infantry Division, aka the Big Red One, I was medically retired and pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Point Loma Nazarene University. My heart for service did not end with the military. After graduating with my degree, I began a career in the nonprofit sector. Several of my family members have diabetes so I know how devastating the disease is. Working with the Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) as the Administrative Assistant is incredibly rewarding because I have an opportunity to be a part of a community working hard to find a cure. The early-career scientists I have the pleasure of working with at DRC have innovative research ideas and it gives me hope that their scientific breakthrough may be what leads to a cure for my family members and all those affected by type 1 diabetes.

Being involved in the community is important to me so I also volunteer my time at the Veterans of Foreign War as a Junior Vice Commander, a mentor to children of military personnel who have either died in combat or due to PTSD-related suicide while serving on active duty at a local nonprofit called Active Valor, and as the Podcast Creator and Director for Triple B Adventures.

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Improved Transplantation of Islet Organoids May Support Type 1 Diabetes Treatment

One approach to treating type 1 diabetes is transplanting insulin-producing beta cells into the body, or cells that can develop to perform this function. However, there are still many challenges in getting the body to accept these cells without extensive immunosuppression. Even still, the cells often have a limited survival rate.

In a recent study, scientists examined the potential of creating insulin-producing organoids to regulate blood sugar and treat type 1 diabetes. They combined dissociated islet cells (ICs) with human amniotic epithelial cells (hAECs) to form islet organoids, or mini pancreas-like organs. These organoids, which can contain multiple types of cells and cell functions, were transplanted into the portal vein because the area is easily accessible and has a low morbidity rate.

In similar approaches, researchers have been faced with cell death due to poor revascularization of the transplanted cells as well as inflammation. However, in this study, they found that by introducing hAECs, they were able to curb some of these effects. hAECs not only secrete proangiogenic growth factors, but anti-inflammatory growth factors as well including insulin-like growth factors and associated binding proteins. Furthermore, they produce high levels of hyaluronic acid which suppresses tumor growth factor β and stimulates VEGF-A production which supports improved revascularization. They also found that hAECs improved protection of IC-hAEC organoids against hypoxic stress thereby reducing risk of cell death.

Results showed that 96% of diabetic mice who received IC-hAEC organoid transplants achieved normoglycemia within one month. The median rate for this process to occur was 5.1 days. In addition, at one-month post-transplant, the mice showed similar glucose clearance as non-diabetic mice.

While this study has only been performed on mouse models so far, the goal is to achieve similar results in human trials. Additional research and testing are needed to determine if the process is translatable. This approach has the potential to improve management of type 1 diabetes and could lead to a possible cure for the disease if results are sustainable in the long-term.

Though not involved in this study, Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) supports advancements in type 1 diabetes research and treatment by providing critical funding to early career scientists. It is these types of studies that assist in transforming the future of diabetes care. Learn more and support these efforts by visiting http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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Rotavirus Vaccine May Reduce Risk of Type 1 Diabetes

There is no single factor that is entirely responsible for the development of type 1 diabetes. Scientists believe that both genetic and environmental factors play a role. One area that they are examining more closely is the impact of enteroviruses. Studies have found that since the introduction of two rotavirus vaccines in 2006 and 2008, the incidence of type 1 diabetes in children has decreased.

A recent study compared data from 2001 to 2017 for nearly 1.5 million infants in the United States. They looked at the incidence rate of type 1 diabetes in those who received the full series of either rotavirus vaccine (pentavalent RotaTeq or monovalent Rotarix), those who received only partial vaccination, and those who were unvaccinated either by parental choice or because the vaccinations had not yet been developed. They also looked at incidence rates among children who received both a rotavirus vaccine and the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccines at the same time, and those who received only the DTaP vaccines.

While partial vaccination had no impact on risk of type 1 diabetes, infants who completed the rotavirus vaccine series showed a 33% reduction in risk, with those receiving the pentavalent vaccine experiencing a 37% lower risk. In addition, children who were vaccinated had lower hospital admission rates due to enteroviruses within 60 days of being vaccinated than children who were unvaccinated. According to the study, in terms of type 1 diabetes risk, “Overall, there was a 3.4% decrease in incidence annually in children ages 0-4 in the United States from 2001-2017, which coincides with the vaccine introduction in 2006.”

When the rotavirus and DTaP vaccines were administered together, there was a 56% reduction in risk of developing type 1 diabetes than when DTaP vaccines only were given. This leads scientists to believe that the rotavirus vaccine plays an integral role in risk reduction. While it does not entirely prevent infants from developing type 1 diabetes at some point in their life, it may reduce their risk of the disease.

Previous studies have shown that rotavirus infection may increase the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells in diabetes-prone mice. In addition, children who had multiple rotavirus infections had increased islet antibody levels which may contribute to islet autoimmunity, which in turn is linked to type 1 diabetes risk.

Though more research is necessary including longer longitudinal studies to determine if type 1 diabetes was prevented entirely or only delayed, this study is a step in the right direction toward potentially reducing diabetes risk. Encouraging families to get their children the rotavirus vaccine – which is covered at no cost under most health insurance plans – could be an effective strategy in decreasing risk of type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is interested to see how these findings may impact the future of prevention efforts for type 1 diabetes and what additional research will discover. The DRC supports early career scientists in pursing novel research regarding type 1 diabetes including diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and management of the disease. To learn more about current projects and how to support these efforts, visit http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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