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Designed for Speed: New Model Will Accelerate Type 1 Diabetes Research

Gillian Green

Vice President, Leadership Giving

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which the beta cells in a person’s pancreas stop producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food.

While the cause of T1D is not completely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. The development of the disease is not tied to diet or lifestyle and is not preventable, and currently there is no cure. From the moment someone is diagnosed, T1D requires 24/7 management with a laser-like focus on keeping blood sugar levels in a specific range. 

T1D research

Across the country and around the world, leading scientists are working to solve the many parts of the T1D puzzle. 

JDRF, the largest global nonprofit funder of T1D research, supports the work of these scientists, connecting their research and propelling advances forward with the aim of getting solutions into the hands of people living with T1D. 

In some places, the research underway is so groundbreaking that it warrants special focus. To support these areas of research, JDRF has launched the JDRF Centers of Excellence program — the newest one of which is the JDRF Center of Excellence at the University of Michigan. 

This is the second JDRF Center of Excellence to be established in just a little over a year. The first one — a collaboration involving Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco — was established in September 2019.

The new Center will be supported by nearly $14 million in funds to be collectively raised by JDRF and the University of Michigan during the next five years.  

A new research model

The Centers present a new model aimed at accelerating T1D research. They are designed to foster highly dynamic, nimble work that will drive discovery with maximum speed. 

By providing researchers with long-term funding, JDRF reduces the red tape, restrictions, and reporting that accompany standard research grants. 

This allows scientists to focus on research and gives them the freedom to quickly change paths to pursue an alternate, promising direction without worrying about lost funding or taking time to file new applications to continue their work. 

The new Center of Excellence will accelerate the advanced beta cell expertise of the University of Michigan’s Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute and will focus on four areas of research:

  1. Determining the ideal metabolic environment for restoration of beta cell function. This program aims to enhance beta cell function in people who receive beta cell replacement therapy. 
  2. Determining susceptibility to high blood glucose with the use of advanced diabetes technologies. This program will aim to develop algorithms that will guide tailored, automated insulin delivery in balance with diet and exercise for people with T1D.
  3. Identifying the risk of chronic complications. This program will identify predictive markers and therapeutic targets to improve the prevention of diabetes complications. 
  4. Determining the psychological impacts of T1D. This program will aim to create new methods to identify stress and cognitive impairment in people with T1D. 

“This center offers us game-changing possibilities,” said Sanjoy Dutta, Ph.D., vice president of research at JDRF. “This center is a partnership of strengths that we know will advance research in meaningful ways, and, we all hope, will deliver cures for T1D.” 

“The work of the Center will yield safer day-to-day diabetes management programs and improved health for individuals living with T1D,” said Thomas Gardner, M.D., M.S., one of the lead investigators of the new Center of Excellence and a professor at Michigan Medicine. “We hope to redefine diabetes and use that information to improve the quality of life for people with the disease.”

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