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Find out the latest news about JDRF's research and fundraising events.

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It's Hypo Awareness Week!

This week JDRF is proud to support the fourth Hypo Awareness Week. This initiative began in 2012 by NHS Diabetes with the aim of helping to bring attention to a potentially serious, but unfortunately common, complication of diabetes - hypoglycaemia. 

Hypoglycaemia, commonly referred to as a ‘hypo’ is when blood glucose levels in people who live with diabetes become too low.  If a hypo is not treated it can lead to unconsciousness and, in extreme cases, may even prove fatal.

Karen Addington, Chief Executive of JDRF said: “Hypoglycaemia is one of the most common and potentially severe side effects of insulin therapy. As the world’s leading charitable funder of type 1 diabetes research we are currently leading on worldwide research aimed at reducing the impact of hypoglycaemia and we are working towards reducing and even, one day, eliminating hypos.”

This week let’s educate, inform and shout about hypos!

Find out more about the research into type 1 diabetes supported by JDRF


New study shows artificial pancreas works for length of entire school term

Revolutionary technology assisting people with type 1 diabetes edges closer to perfection.

An artificial pancreas given to children and adults with type 1 diabetes going about their daily lives has been proven to work for 12 weeks – meaning the technology now can offer a whole school term of extra freedom for children with the condition.

Artificial pancreas trials for people at home, work and school have previously been limited to short periods of time. But this study, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, saw the technology safely provide three whole months of use, bringing us closer to the day when the wearable, smartphone-like device can be made available to patients.

The lives of the 400,000 UK people with type 1 diabetes currently involves a relentless balancing act of controlling their blood glucose levels by finger-prick blood tests and taking insulin via injections or a pump. But the artificial pancreas sees tight blood glucose control achieved automatically.

This latest University of Cambridge study showed the artificial pancreas significantly improved control of blood glucose levels among participants – lessening their risk of hypoglycaemia. Known as ‘having a hypo,’ hypoglycaemia is a drop in blood glucose levels that can be highly dangerous and is what people with type 1 diabetes hate most.

Susan Walls is mother to Daniel Walls, a 12-year-old with type 1 diabetes who has taken part in the trial. She said: “Daniel goes back to school this month after the summer holidays – so it’s a perfect time to hear this wonderful news that the artificial pancreas is proving reliable, offering a whole school term of support.

“The artificial pancreas could change my son’s life, and the lives of so many others. Daniel has absolutely no hypoglycaemia awareness at night. His blood glucose levels could be very low and he wouldn’t wake up. The artificial pancreas could give me the peace of mind that I’ve been missing.”

The University of Cambridge study is being funded by JDRF. Karen Addington, Chief Executive of JDRF, said: “JDRF launched its goal of perfecting the artificial pancreas in 2006. These results today show that we are thrillingly close to what will be a breakthrough in medical science.”

Dr Roman Hovorka, lead artificial pancreas researcher at the University of Cambridge, said: “The data clearly demonstrate the benefits of the artificial pancreas when used over several months. We have seen improved glucose control and reduced risk of unwanted low glucose levels.”

Read more about the artificial pancreas.


£3 million of new funding to continue British and Israeli research into conditions including type 1 diabetes

A special partnership between British and Israeli scientists – backed by Prime Minister David Cameron - is to be provided with a further £3 million of research funding.

The partnership, including JDRF and three other leading medical research charities, is tackling some of the world’s most challenging health conditions, including type 1 diabetes.  

The third BIRAX (British Israel Research Academic Exchange) Research Call will award a further seven projects in 2017 worth £3 million in new funding. The BIRAX initiative was created by the British Embassy in Israel and the British Council to invest in world-leading collaborative research.

This builds on a previous funding announcement which saw scientists from universities including Cambridge and Oxford provided with funding for cutting-edge research to find cures for type 1 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. The type 1 diabetes research has focused on ‘regenerative’ approaches, which explore whether lost insulin-producing cells can be regenerated in the body.

The new announcement was welcomed following discussions on science and innovation between the prime minister David Cameron and the Prime Minister of Israel, Benyamin Netanyahu, last week.

Clare McVicker, Director of Research Advocacy at JDRF in the UK, said: “Regenerative medicine is a thrilling frontier for type 1 diabetes research that offers the potential to change lives. JDRF is delighted that BIRAX is successfully strengthening international research collaboration between Israel and Britain, and we are delighted to once again be a part of this project.”  

 Alan Gemmell, Director of the British Council in Israel commented: “Through BIRAX, the best scientists in Britain and Israel are working together to develop therapies and find cures for diseases that affect millions of people. We’re proud to be able to support labs across the UK and fund their work through partnerships with world-leading medical research foundations.”  


Behind the headlines: Is vitamin D protective against type 1 diabetes?

You may have read an article in The Telegraph today that suggests increasing a person’s level of vitamin D could help prevent type 1 diabetes.

The main role of vitamin D in the body is to keep bones and teeth healthy and there are many benefits to ensuring that you get the recommended daily allowance. The main source of vitamin D is sunlight but it is also found in oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals.

There has been a lot of research into this topic in recent years and there is potential evidence of a link between vitamin D deficiency and a number of conditions including type 1 diabetes.

Some research has indicated that many children and teenagers with type 1 do have low vitamin D levels, and there is evidence to suggest that there is variation in genes involved with metabolism of vitamin D in young people with type 1.

Other studies have shown that vitamin D may help preserve beta cell function in people with new-onset type 1.

However, no clinical trials have yet demonstrated that adding more vitamin D to a diet can conclusively prevent type 1.

The Department of Health currently recommends:

All pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D, to ensure the mother’s requirements for vitamin D are met and to build adequate foetal stores for early infancy.

All babies and young children aged 6 months to 5 years should take a daily supplement containing vitamin D in the form of vitamin drops, to help them to meet the requirement set for this age group of 7.0-8.5 micrograms of vitamin D a day.

However, babies who are fed infant formula will not need vitamin drops until they are receiving less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, as these products are fortified with vitamin D.

Breastfed infants may need to receive drops containing vitamin D from one month of age if their mother has not taken vitamin D supplements throughout pregnancy.

People aged 65 years and over and people who are not exposed to much sun should also take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D. 


Race to develop artificial pancreas hots up

JDRF has long supported development of the artificial pancreas, a closed loop system that would include a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and an insulin pump, and set up the artificial pancreas consortium to help promote development of this technology around the world. This includes 21 clinics located around the world that are all involved with some aspect of research into the artificial pancreas.

The 7th International Conference on Advanced Technologies & Treatments for Diabetes in Vienna, Austria, attended by JDRF, focused on the exciting developments that have happened recently that will help make the artificial pancreas a reality in the near future.

In the UK, Roman Hovorka from the University of Cambridge is leading the JDRF-funded efforts in this field. As reported in a paper published in Diabetes Care last year, he and his colleagues showed that adolescents using a prototype artificial pancreas over a period of 36 hours in a research facility had significantly lower and less variable blood glucose levels than those using conventional pump therapy. More recently, Hovorka and team have had positive results in home-based studies.

The Cambridge prototype is far from the only one being developed. Many other researchers around the world are working on similar but subtly different models, often aimed at different subgroups of people with type 1, and a large number of these projects were discussed at the conference. For example, Moshe Phillip and colleagues have developed and are testing the ‘Glucositter’ artificial pancreas in Germany, Slovenia and Israel; and Edward Damiano and his US-based team have developed and are testing a ‘bionic pancreas’ in Boston.

Advances in artificial-pancreas related technology were a key theme of the meeting. Manufacturers Dexcom and Medtronic have responded to the successes of the competing global artificial pancreas research groups by improving the efficacy of their pumps and sensors.

Dexcom’s G4 Platinum CGM, shown to be more accurate than Medtronic’s Enlite CGM in a new study presented in Vienna, has already been upgraded by the development of the G4AP. Dexcom developed the new sensor technology, which is even more accurate than the G4 Platinum CGM, in conjunction with the University of Padova in Italy, specifically for use as part of an artificial pancreas system.

Similarly, Medtronic has already improved upon its MiniMed 530G, the first available pump system approved in both Europe and the US with a “low glucose suspend” feature that will automatically stop insulin delivery from the pump for two hours when an associated CGM reaches a preset low blood glucose level. While the 530G system is considered to be the first step of six on the path to a working artificial pancreas, the Medtronic MiniMed 640G is thought to be the second. The difference between the 530G and the 640G is that the latter will suspend insulin when hypoglycaemia is predicted, whereas the former will only do so if a preset hypoglycemic threshold is crossed. Medtronic hopes to launch the 640G in Europe sometime between mid 2014 and early 2015, and in two-to-three years in the US.

A key to the puzzle that remains to be solved is the speed which insulin can be absorbed into the body from an external pump, as with currently available options there is a delay of up to 20 minutes between insulin administration and uptake in the blood which makes smooth interaction between a CGM and an insulin pump tricky. A faster acting insulin than those currently available could solve this problem, but has yet to be developed.

Another method of speeding up insulin delivery is by going via the stomach. Eric Renard from Montpellier University, France is an expert on ‘intraperitoneal’ insulin pumps and spoke about them at the conference. The main problem with these pumps is that they have to be implanted in the stomach and are therefore quite invasive for most people with type 1. However, they can be very effective at improving blood glucose control in people whose diabetes is difficult to control. Renard is hoping to develop an artificial pancreas with an intraperitoneal pump, in order to improve treatment for people with highly variable response to insulin. 

JDRF tweeted from the conference. To read more and see pictures of the event you can follow the story here.


Eyes take prize in JDRF's 2013 photo competition

We asked our researchers to send in a photo that showed their research in action, for the chance to win a £500 travel bursary (£250 for the runners-up). Here are the three winning entries, with explanations from the researchers themselves.


Georgios Ponirakis, Clinical Research Coordinator at The University of Manchester

Our team at The University of Manchester has pioneered the use of Corneal Confocal Microscopy (CCM). This process allows us to examine the eye from its surface, giving us a rapid, non-invasive way to monitor nerve damage in people with diabetic neuropathy. We have also developed automated image analysis software to rapidly assess the structure of nerve fibres.

The JDRF grant I won from the photography competition was used to fund my travel expenses to the Neurodiab Meeting in Barcelona. This conference provided me the opportunity to hear from a wide range of inspiring speakers from around the world about different aspects of diabetic neuropathy.



Dr Rupert Kenefeck, Postdoctoral Fellow at UCL

Our lab is interested in determining which subset of immune system T cells is implicated in type 1. To do this, we label our cells with fluorescent tags, then pass them through a fluorescence associated cell sorter (FACS) at up to 20,000 cells per second. Using lasers, the machine detects cells with a specific combination of tags and adds a charge to the tiny droplets of water containing them. This charge directs the droplets into collection tubes for later study. Here 4 streams of droplets are being collected alongside the central discard stream.

I used the prize money to visit the British Society for Immunology Congress before Christmas where I presented some of our most recent data. It was a great opportunity to see some of the most recent ground breaking immunological research and to meet other researchers from all corners of the world.

James Bockhart, Research Student at the University of Brighton

These images show a new material, BioVyon™, that has been designed to mimic the environment of the pancreas. This property makes it ideal for culturing beta cells for transplantation – a potential treatment for type 1.

The left-hand image shows the material magnified 100 times by scanning electron microscopy, revealing details of its surface chemistry. The right-hand image shows it as visualised with fluorescence microscopy. Blue and pink indicate a viable cluster of beta cell analogues after 3 days of culture.

I intend to use the prize money to travel to the Diabetes UK conference in Liverpool. This will provide me with a chance to network and catch up with researchers in my field, discuss current projects, and explore compound interests in my research area. My work so far has investigated three dimensional cell culture methods with the aim of mass culturing beta cells for islet transplantation. Discussing ideas and problems with other scientists is an excellent way to progress and develop a foundation of contacts to aid future work.

Without your support research like this would not have been possible, please help us continue this world class type 1 diabetes research in the UK.


New JDRF-funded research projects announced

Dr Parth Narendran at the University of Birmingham will test if there is a way of stopping the cells of the immune system that target beta cells from entering the pancreas in the first place. Preventing the immune attack from getting started is one of JDRF’s key priorities. As the cells of the immune system usually reside in the blood, they need to pass through the walls of the blood vessels to get to the pancreas in order to wreak havoc.

Dr Narendran and his team have found that a molecule called PEPITEM appears to block exactly this passage of the cells that target beta cells for destruction through the walls of the blood vessels. If this proof of concept study proves successful, this could present an exciting new opportunity for protecting insulin-producing cells from immune destruction – both in people at risk of developing type 1 and people already living with the condition.

Dr Tim Tree at King’s College London is looking at specific cells in the immune system that may offer protection against type 1. In this project he will investigate regulatory T cells, which are supposed to keep the immune system under control. Previous work has identified a group of these regulatory T cells that are specifically involved in controlling the body’s immune response to insulin-producing beta cells, and people with more of these so-called ‘ISIS’ regulatory T cells seem to have a higher level of protection against getting type 1.

This project will help us to understand more about ISIS regulatory T cells and find out what makes them special. That understanding will then help us to work out if there is a way we can harness the power of ISIS regulatory T cells in our quest to cure and prevent type 1 diabetes.

In a related project at King’s College London, Dr Els Henckaerts is going to use her team’s skills in stem cell biology to investigate whether she can grow new regulatory T cells capable of controlling the immune response against beta cells in her laboratory. If this proof-of-concept study yields decisive results, the cells created by the team could potentially be injected into people with, or at risk of, type 1 diabetes as a means to control the immune destruction of beta cells.

JDRF has committed over £430,000 to supporting these three projects: find out how you can help us to support them today.


Tackling type 1 diabetes in Canada

JDRF’s Chief Executive in the UK, Karen Addington, has warmly welcomed the appointment of Dave Prowten as the new President and Chief Executive Officer of JDRF Canada.

Karen said: “Canada is where, 91 years ago, scientists first treated a type 1 diabetes patient with insulin. Today the mission to cure type 1 diabetes is continued by JDRF staff, supporters and volunteers in Canada, the UK, and other nations.

“I’d like to welcome Dave as he steps into his exciting role. I look forward to working with him to better treat, prevent and eventually cure this condition.”

Mr Prowten moves to the CEO chair with a wealth of previous experience, including his work as Executive Director of Canada’s Arthritis Research Foundation.

See more on research funded by JDRF, which takes place across 17 different countries.


Behind the headlines: BCG and type 1

The Times has today (9 August 2012) covered a story about a potential role for the BCG vaccine in helping people with type 1. The story follows publication of an article in the journal PLoS One which claims to have shown benefit for a small number of people with long established type 1.

The study was led by Dr Denise Faustman of Massachusetts General Hospital, USA. Dr Faustman’s previous research in mice has shown that a molecule called TNF may help to turn off the immune response that leads to type 1 diabetes. As TNF cannot be safely administered to humans as a drug, the team have looked for other medications that can boost the body’s own levels of TNF. The BCG vaccine is known to increase levels of TNF in the body for a short time, so the team have conducted a small trial to see if this increase in TNF levels has an impact in people with type 1.

The study reported in the Times was published in the online journal PLoS One, and involved six patients. Three were given a placebo and three were given the BCG jab. Blood samples from two of the BCG patients showed that there was a small change in the balance between the ‘bad’ immune cells that target the insulin producing cells and the ‘good’ immune cells that work to supress autoimmune reactions in our bodies, for a short time after the trial. There was also evidence that the patients produced slightly more of their own insulin during this time. Unfortunately it was not enough to alter the way they managed their type 1. The same results were also seen in one of the patients who received the placebo, who had contracted a virus during the course of the study.


Taking control of the immune system

JDRF-funded researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have managed to stop the immune system attack on beta cells that causes type 1 in mice.

In the study which was published in the journal Diabetes this week, researchers found that injecting mice with immune cells called macrophages stopped the attack on beta cells.

Macrophages are a type of immune cell that can either protect cells from an immune attack or be the attacker, depending on which signals they receive from other cells around them.  The first part of this study, which was led by Dr Robert Harris, identified the signals that macrophages need to become protective.

The team were then able to use these signals to coax macrophages into the protective mode. The protective macrophages were then injected into mice whose immune system had begun to attack beta cells but were not yet insulin dependent.  Following the injection of macrophages, mice were less likely to develop type 1 and most could maintain their own insulin production.

 In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Finding a way to stop this attack early on may help to protect the remaining beta cells and allow people with the condition to continue producing at least some of their own insulin.

Maebh Kelly, Research Communication Officer at JDRF said ‘Understanding how cells in the immune system are directed to attack or defend other cells is an important step towards the development of immune therapies that can halt the development of type 1. Dr Harris’ research has provided us with new insight into the signals that tell the immune system what to do and how we can control them’.


Behind the Headlines: Research breakthrough as experts reverse diabetes in mice

JDRF-funded researchers in Canada have for the first time reversed type 1 diabetes in mice using human embryonic stem cells.

The team, led by Dr Timothy Kieffer, directed the stem cells most of the way towards becoming beta cells in the lab and the cells finally became mature beta cells once they were transplanted into mice.

Dr Kieffer turned stem cells into pancreatic progenitor cells which are the type of cell that becomes a beta cell and then transplanted them into mice. The environment around the pancreas of each mouse helped to turn the cells from pancreatic progenitor cells to beta cells and by five months after the transplant, the mice were producing their own insulin in response to glucose.

However, the team also needed to give the mice strong drugs to suppress their immune systems so that they would not reject the transplant.  This can be problematic for humans as it causes significant side effects, including reducing ability to fight off infections.

In type 1 diabetes, the cells in the immune system destroy the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. Replacing or regenerating beta cells could give people with type 1 the ability to produce their own insulin.

However, beta cell therapies are unlikely to be a cure by themselves and will need to go hand in hand with better immune therapies that will selectively stop the part of the immune system that attacks beta cells.  In the future, this could prevent some of the side effects of beta cell transplants.

Sarah Johnson, Director of Policy and Communications  said ‘This is a step forward in our aim to be able to restore insulin production in people with type 1.  There is a lot more work to be done to build on this promising research, which is only made possible by the generosity of JDRF supporters worldwide,'

Find out more about how to support research to cure, treat and prevent type 1 diabetes.


Moving towards a glucagon pump

JDRF-funded researchers at Oregon Health and Science University have discovered a way to keep liquid glucagon stable so that it could be used in diabetes pumps.

The research which was led by Dr W Kenneth Ward was presented at the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) annual scientific meeting this week. Dr Ward and his team found that reducing the level of acid in the glucagon compound meant that it could be kept as a liquid for longer periods of time. At the moment, glucagon cannot be stored as a liquid and is kept as a powder which, when added to liquid needs to be used immediately.

This research could broaden the use of glucagon to treat hypoglycaemia and is an important step towards the development of a multi-hormone, automated artificial pancreas. Future generation artificial pancreas systems could act just like the body and be able to release glucagon as well as insulin to keep a tighter control on blood glucose levels.

Glucagon is a hormone that raises blood sugar levels and works together with insulin to fine tune blood glucose levels. Previous research has shown that insulin treatment together with glucagon reduces hypoglycaemia. 

Rachel Connor, Head of Research Communication at JDRF said, ‘JDRF are committed to developing the next generation multi-hormone artificial pancreas and for this we need stable liquid glucagon that can be used in a pump. Dr Ward’s research is an exciting step towards this goal.’

Read about more JDRF-funded research that has been presented this week at the ADA meeting on the JDRF US site