DRC & Research News

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

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Preserving Endogenous Insulin Production

Preserving Endogenous Insulin Production in Newly Diagnosed Type 1 Diabetes Patients

A hallmark of type 1 diabetes is the body loses its ability to naturally produce enough (or any) insulin to effectively manage blood glucose levels. This is due to the mistaken destruction of insulin-producing beta cells by the immune system, a process that researchers are continually learning more about. In many cases, when type 1 diabetes (T1D) is first diagnosed, there is a short window of time (up to about six months) where the body still creates insulin, but not enough to meet demand.

A recent study explored a new way to try to preserve endogenous insulin production and reduce the amount of insulin newly diagnosed patients required. The study involved 84 patients ages 6 to 21 who had been diagnosed with T1D within 100 days of the start of the trial. Approximately two-thirds of participants were given the drug golimumab, while the other one-third received a placebo. Golimumab is an anti-tumor-necrosis-factor (TNF) therapy that is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and other autoimmune conditions. It has not yet been approved for use in patients with T1D.

The patients who received golimumab self-administered the drug via injection every two weeks. Results showed that these patients achieved markedly better glycemic control that patients receiving the placebo. After 52 weeks of treatment, “41.4% of participants receiving golimumab had an increase or less than 5% decrease in C-peptide compared to only 10.7% in the placebo group.”

Furthermore, patients who were still in the “honeymoon phase” of their diabetes, or the first 3-6 months after diagnosis where there is still some endogenous insulin production and not as much injected insulin is needed, also showed improvement once transitioning out this phase and continuing to take golimumab. Those patients showed a smaller increase in injected insulin than the placebo group requiring just 0.07 units per kilogram more per day versus 0.24 units per kilogram per day respectively. Another notable improvement is that patients between the ages of 6 and 18 experienced 36% fewer episodes of level 2 hypoglycemia, a condition that can be potentially life-threatening and negatively impact the quality of life.

Since golimumab is already FDA-approved for other conditions, these phase 2 study results play an important role in moving the process forward to show that it may be an effective treatment for T1D as well. This therapy may be able to help newly diagnosed patients retain some of their body’s natural insulin-producing abilities and decrease the amount of injected insulin needed to maintain good glycemic control.

Golimumab may become another option for patients with type 1 diabetes in the future and change how the disease is managed when caught and treated early on. It is encouraging to see new ways to preserve beta-cell function. Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is interested to see how this study unfolds and whether golimumab is approved for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Although not involved in this study, DRC supports early-career scientists in pursuing studies like these and other projects related to preventing and curing T1D as well as minimizing complications and improving the quality of life for individuals living with the disease. Scientists can receive up to $50K in funding to advance their research. To learn more about current projects and support these efforts, visit https://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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Treating Type 1 Diabetes

Gene Therapy Targets Pancreatic Cells in Treating Type 1 Diabetes

A major challenge in treating type 1 diabetes is figuring out how to overcome the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells. The body mistakenly targets and destroys these cells leaving the body unable to manage blood sugar levels on its own. Individuals with this disease must be vigilant about checking their blood sugar and administering insulin as needed, which can be an exhausting task.

Current treatment options include injection of insulin, use of continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps, stem cell therapies and implants, partial transplants, and other strategies. These treatments vary in effectiveness from person to person as well as how long they last. In addition, some require patients to continue taking anti-rejection drugs which can be hard on the body.

However, a new treatment may offer longer lasting, more effective results in the battle against type 1 diabetes. A recent study found that by using gene therapy targeting two specific genes, insulin-producing cells may be able to be recreated in the body using existing alpha cells. A healthy pancreas contains both alpha and beta cells. In those with type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing beta cells are destroyed. But when mice were injected with gene therapy to reprogram some alpha cells to take over the function of these beta cells, they were once again able to produce insulin and manage blood sugar.

The genetic changes were administered using a bioengineered virus. The virus had been altered so that it would not make the recipient ill, but could still penetrate cells to modify their DNA. The alpha cells then assumed insulin-producing functions without triggering the immune system to attack because the cells are already normally present in the body. Furthermore, researchers found that by delivering the gene therapy endoscopically into the pancreas, it stayed there and did not negatively impact other areas of the body.

While the treatment only lasted approximately four months in mice, scientists believe that it could be effective for several years in humans before retreatment would be necessary. The researchers are seeking FDA approval to begin clinical trials on humans using this gene therapy to evaluate its effectiveness and safety in treating type 1 and type 2 diabetes. There are approximately 30.3 million people in the United States and 422 million people worldwide affected by diabetes.

The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is excited to see how gene therapy may advance treatment options for type 1 diabetes and improve quality of life for millions of people. The DRC supports novel research studies for type 1 diabetes and provides essential funding early career scientists to carry out these studies. To learn more about current projects and donate to this research, visit Our Projects.

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Breaking Down the Prevalence of Type 1 Diabetes

Diabetes affects people of all ages and races throughout the United States, but just how many people are impacted? According to a self-report study of 33,028 adults with a response rate of 54.3%, approximately 21 million adults (8.6%) in the United States were living with type 2 diabetes in 2016, and approximately 1.3 million (0.55%) were living with type 1 diabetes.

The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked participants a variety of questions regarding being diagnosed with diabetes and what methods were used to manage it. Responses were classified as type 1, type 2, or “other” type of diabetes. There were 182 participants who reported having type 1 diabetes but did not claim to take any type of insulin, so they were categorized as type 2 respondents. Out of the 33,028 participants, 3,519 reported having diabetes, and 211 of those reported having type 1 diabetes. The study also found that T1D was more prevalent in men than women (0.64% vs. 0.46%), and as well as in non-Hispanic whites versus Hispanics (0.67% and 0.22% respectively).

Study authors hope that “knowledge about national prevalence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes might facilitate assessment of the long-term cost-effectiveness of public health interventions and policies aimed at improving diabetes management and help to prioritize national plans for future type-specific health services.”

Though it may seem like a small percentage who have T1D, it is still more than a million people who struggle each day with this disease, and more than a million people who would benefit from advanced research and treatment options. The Diabetes Research Connection seeks to further knowledge, research, and interventions regarding type 1 diabetes as well and supports novel research studies focused on this condition. Early career scientists can receive valuable funding through the DRC to support their research projects. Check out the current studies and support these efforts by visiting http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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Exploring Beta Cell Regeneration in Treating Type 1 Diabetes

In individuals with type 1 diabetes (T1D), the body’s immune system mistakenly destroys insulin-producing beta cells necessary for managing blood sugar. Instead, patients must constantly monitor their own blood glucose levels and administer the proper dosage of insulin as necessary. In individuals without T1D, the pancreas does this automatically.

Some of the challenges that researchers have faced in trying to treat or cure T1D through cellular means is that the body may still reject these cells, there may be a shortage of donor cells, or the process of creating necessary beta cells can be complex. However, researchers at the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine may have found an effective way of using the body’s existing cell supply to generate insulin-producing beta cells.

The researchers identified the exact location in the body of progenitor cells with the ability to develop into beta cells. When stimulated by bone morphogenetic protein 7 (BMP-7), a naturally occurring growth factor, the pancreatic cells differentiated into the necessary beta cells. This discovery could lead to a significant supply of new beta cells within patients’ own bodies, eliminating the need for donor cells and curbing other immune-related challenges of treatment.

This process still requires more in-depth study, but it could lead the way to new regenerative medicine strategies that stimulate insulin production more naturally. The researchers are currently exploring options to reduce the need for lifelong anti-rejection drugs by enhancing immune tolerance of the newly created cells.

This study is another step toward advancing the treatment of T1D and providing patients with more options for care. The more scientists learn about the causes and effects of T1D, the more they can target approaches to treatment.

The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) stays abreast of the latest developments in the field and encourages novel research projects by early-career scientists focused on T1D. The DRC raises funds through contributions by individuals, organizations, and foundations to support the advancement of these studies. Find out how you can get involved by visiting http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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DRC-Funded Scientist Creates New Insulin-Producing Cells to Fight Type 1 Diabetes

Thanks in part to funding from the Diabetes Research Connection (DRC), Dr. Kristin Mussar was able to conduct an in-depth study regarding how to stimulate the body’s own cells to create new insulin-producing cells that may help treat type 1 diabetes (T1D). In individuals with T1D, the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells, destroying them and leaving the body unable to effectively regulate blood sugar.

The human body is filled with myeloid cells that all differentiate to help grow, maintain, and repair various organs. When these cells are depleted, it impacts organ health. For instance, lack of insulin-producing cells results in diabetes. However, Dr. Mussar and her team discovered that there is a population of macrophages – white blood cells that recirculate throughout the body constantly monitoring the health status of all tissues – that instruct insulin-producing cells to grow in the perinatal stage of pancreas development. During this period of prolific growth, enough insulin-producing cells are created to support glucose homeostasis throughout one’s life.

Dr. Mussar found that there is a special population of these cells that act as cargos of potent growth factors for the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. If these cells are prevented from entering the pancreas, the growth of insulin-producing cells is arrested and diabetes ensues. This lack of cell growth, as well as cell destruction, are issues that researchers have been trying to remedy through various strategies for treating T1D.

One avenue of treatment that is being explored is finding ways to use the body’s own cells and processes to support insulin production. Current challenges in treatment include the constant monitoring and accurate dosing of insulin, as well as the use of immunosuppressants or other medications to prevent the body from destroying modified cells or specialized therapies. Using the body’s own cells can help reduce risk of immune attack or rejection.

To this effect, Dr. Mussar’s research revealed that there are precursors to these special macrophages that exist within the bone marrow of adults. When these precursors are injected into the blood stream, they are able to signal growth of insulin-producing cells. This discovery raises hopes that, by dispatching these pro-regenerative cells from the bone marrow to injured pancreatic islets, it may be possible to enhance regeneration of insulin-producing cells in individuals with type 1 diabetes. This may in turn help to stabilize blood sugar naturally using the body’s own cells.

The Diabetes Research Connection is proud to have played a role in making Dr. Mussar’s research possible by providing funding that enabled her to continue moving forward with her project and eventually get the results published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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Single Strand of Islet Cells Could Change Diabetes Management

For patients with type 1 diabetes, daily insulin injections become a way of life. Since the pancreas either does not produce enough or any insulin, and the body’s immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells, the body is unable to regulate blood sugar on its own. There are many studies underway examining potential treatments that would eliminate the need for regular insulin injections.

One such study is being conducted by researchers at Cornell University in collaboration with Novo Nordisk and the University of Michigan Medical School. The researchers have developed an implant that would enable the production of insulin while warding off an attack from the immune system. The device is a single thread covered with “hundreds of thousands of islet cells” that is then fully encased in hydrogel. The hydrogel not only keeps the islets in place, it also protects them from being damaged.

The thread does not adhere to tissue within the body, so it can be easily removed and replaced once the islet cells reach the end of their lifespan. Current research shows they could potentially last anywhere from several months up to two years. This device has shown promising results when tested in both mice and dogs. No testing on humans has taken place yet, which would need to be done before the technology is potentially approved for use.

Technology continues to advance when it comes to treating and managing type 1 diabetes, and this is very encouraging. The Diabetes Research Connection strives to support early career scientists in conducting novel research studies focused on type 1 diabetes in order to improve the quality of life for individuals living with the disease and enhance diagnosis, prevention, and treatment efforts. To learn more, visit http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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Patents Approved for Small Molecule Therapies for Type 1 Diabetes

There are numerous approaches to managing, treating, and potentially curing type 1 diabetes (T1D). Some focus on replenishing or protecting insulin-producing beta cells, some involve the development of devices that simulate similar functions, and still, others seek to zero in on issues related to the development of T1D.

ImmunoMolecular Therapeutics recently received patents for two of its small molecule therapies that can be used in the treatment of T1D. These patents provide exclusive rights to the use of methyldopa and D-methyldopa (D-MDOPA) as part of immunotherapy treatment. According to the company, “The lead candidate drug [D-MDOPA] is an oral small molecule that starves the autoimmune process in type 1 diabetes by blocking DQ8 on specific immune cells. Our goal is to preserve pancreatic beta cell function and maintain normal insulin production in at-risk and early-stage patients with type 1 diabetes.” By blocking DQ8, the immune system will not attack insulin-producing beta cells, therefore, preserving their function.

Immunotherapy is one option when it comes to treating T1D. The Diabetes Research Connection supports early career scientists in moving forward with novel research for a variety of methods used in the treatment and prevention of the disease. To learn more about current projects and support their advancement, visit http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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Stem-Cell Derived Therapy for Type 1 Diabetes Funded to Move Forward

Scientists have been exploring many options for treating and potentially curing type 1 diabetes (T1D) in recent years. From examining the role of gut cells to creating an artificial pancreas, the studies have been diverse. Some challenges that they have faced are undesirable side effects, short-term effects, the need for immune suppression, and continued destruction of insulin-producing cells.

However, Semma Therapeutics recently secured $114 million in Series B financing to move forward with a program using encapsulated stem cell-derived islets to treat and potentially cure T1D. This financing was made possible through investments from multiple partners and investors. It will be used to advance the stem-cell derived therapy through clinical proof-of-concept in patients.

The technology and processes used by Semma have the ability to create billions of insulin-producing beta cells that perform in the same way these cells do when naturally produced by the body. However, these cells are combined with an innovative cell delivery technology that protects them from being destroyed by the body’s immune system. Ideally, this would enable them to continue regulating blood sugar while reducing the risk of complications and the need for constant blood sugar monitoring and insulin injections.

According to Semma Therapeutics Founder and Board Observer Douglas Melton, “Semma’s scientists have very effectively dedicated themselves to systems that reliably generate cells indistinguishable from human pancreatic beta cells and to the invention of novel devices that are immunologically protective and surgically practical. We’re very encouraged and excited about the potential this program has for diabetic patients and their families.”

The Diabetes Research Connection is eager to see how this program could impact the lives of those living with T1D, as well as the progress and direction of treatment options moving forward. The Diabetes Research Connection is not connected to this project, but raises funds to support early career scientists in conducting novel research in preventing, treating, and curing T1D, as well as improving quality of life for individuals with the disease. To learn more, visit http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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How Technology is Changing Diabetes Care and Treatment

Despite years of research and clinical trials, no cure for type 1 diabetes exists yet. However, how the disease is managed and treated has changed, leading to vast improvements in quality of life. Many individuals are better able to track their blood sugar and administer insulin more effectively to reduce instances of hypoglycemia and other complications. A recent article explores how technology has impacted current research for type 1 diabetes.

For years, researchers were focused on developing immunotherapies to try to treat T1D at its source. With this type of diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells from the pancreas. The goal was to either reverse the disease or stop it from developing in the first place. Today, researchers have shifted their focus. Instead of trying to figure out how to prevent diabetes, some scientists are working to improve how patients live with the disease. This has involved major leaps in medicine including attempts at developing an artificial pancreas system that would function similar to the body’s own pancreas to regulate blood sugar.

Over the years, researchers have experimented with a variety of immune therapies trying to find an approach that could treat diabetes without a host of unpleasant side effects. This has been a difficult process and not yet produced a significantly effective treatment. However, there have continued to be technological advances that have improved how patients manage diabetes. It is easier than ever to quickly test blood sugar, and some patients even have continuous glucose monitors that send information to their smartphone and alert to low blood sugar. There have also been many improvements in more accurate dosing and administering insulin.

In 2016, scientists made progress toward creating an “artificial pancreas” system. It combined a continuous glucose monitor and insulin pump to modulate insulin delivery based on data over time. It is not yet fully automated, however, because patients still must calculate their insulin dosage during meal times. But it did have benefits for reducing hypoglycemia overnight. This technology has opened doors for others to begin testing different approaches for creating a fully automated insulin delivery artificial pancreas system. While not a “cure” for type 1 diabetes, it could help improve management of the disease while decreasing the burden on patients.

There is still a great deal of research and work to be done before this type of treatment comes to fruition. And once it exists, there is no guarantee that every patient would choose to use it, just like not all patients choose to have continuous glucose monitors. But it would be another option that exists and could potentially have a significant impact on people’s lives.

The Diabetes Research Connection recognizes the life-changing impact that a T1D diagnosis has, and supports early career scientists in moving forward with novel research projects focused on preventing, curing, or managing type 1 diabetes. Through donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations, research funding is made possible. To learn more about current projects or make a donation, visit http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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