THE BLOG
09/20/2016 08:55 am ET Updated Sep 21, 2017

An Important Talk About The Importance Of Diabetes Awareness

National Diabetes Awareness Month is right around the corner, and it brings up the concern regarding how huge of an issue diabetes really is. A spokesperson from Diabetes Research Connection has agreed to answer some questions regarding Type 1 diabetes and the research that is being conducted to understand this autoimmune disease more.

1. Can you tell us a little more about type 1 diabetes; how is it different from type 2?

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a chronic autoimmune disease, like multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy. T1D is the result of the human immune system mistaking the body's beta cells, which produce insulin, for foreign cells and destroys them. These beta cells produce insulin in response to elevated blood sugar levels. A person with T1D must constantly test his or her blood sugar and inject insulin or use an insulin pump to normalize blood glucose levels. Currently, there is no known cure for T1D.

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is much more common than T1D. While the causes for T2D aren't fully understood, excess weight, inactivity, age and genetics contribute to the development of this disease. Patients with T2D make insulin, but their cells can't respond to it adequately. In some cases, T2D can be controlled by exercise, diet and weight loss.

Diabetes is the leading cause of adult blindness, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, amputations, nerve damage and other complications. This is why the Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) supports research designed to prevent, cure and better the disease.

2. Explain to us what you do to research Type 1 Diabetes.

DRC is a nonprofit organization headquartered in San Diego, California. Established in 2012, DRC's mission is to connect donors with early-career scientists enabling them to perform peer-reviewed, novel research designed to prevent and cure T1D, minimize its complications and improve the quality of life for those with the disease.

Researchers from across the country submit a grant application to members of DRC's Scientific Review Committee, which is comprised of over 80 of the leading U.S. diabetes experts. Each research proposal is carefully scrutinized for innovation, value and feasibility.

Approved projects receive up to $50,000 in as few as 12 weeks. 100% of funds go directly to each scientist's lab. To ensure transparency, each investigator provides updates to donors on their project. Final outcomes are posted on DRC's website. This openness informs the research community of credible, new science. Research redundancy is less likely to occur, resulting in donated and government funds being used more efficiently.

3. There is no cure for Type 1 Diabetes, but do you think that could change anytime soon?

The discovery that insulin injections could treat T1D almost 100 years ago is the seminal finding and access to insulin is a daily necessity for people with this disease. There are a number of current research efforts to improve how external insulin is given in order to most closely control blood glucose levels, andthat is perhaps the most exciting area of medical research in our future. There are also many scientists working on preventing the onset of T1D or curing it after is has developed. Cells that can replace those lost in T1D and T2D are now a reality in several laboratories worldwide. It may be possible to create a new type of beta cell supply derived from stem cells. By using gene splicing, engineered beta cells may avoid rejection by the immune system. This futuristic approach has tremendous potential providing that the protein responsible for the immune attack to beta cells is identified, successfully targeted and silenced. Lastly, these designer cells should perform as intended without adverse side effects. A clinical trial has begun using human beta cells derived from embryonic stem cells and implanted under the skin in protective capsules to avoid their immune rejection."

4. What are some of the greatest breakthroughs your scientists have had on a project?

Todd Brusko, Ph.D., from the University of Florida, completed his project, "Engineering Immune Cells To Stop Autoimmune Attacks" in December of 2015. The goal of his DRC supported project was to create a technology platform that would enable an optimized Treg cell (a specialized set of white cells that appear to interfere with the immune damage to beta cells) therapy for the treatment of type 1 diabetes. Therefore, Dr. Bursko set out to manufacture biodegradable nanoparticles that would release a Treg growth and survival factor binding to Treg cell surfaces. In animal experiments, his initial data supports the notion of improved engraftment and function. These findings offer critical proof-of-principle data that is closely watched by those with T1D because it addresses an important hurdle that must be overcome for a cure. If successful, this method will increase the number of protective cells which can help prevent further destruction of remaining beta cells.

Kristin Mussar, Ph.D. Candidate, from the University of Washington, completed her project, "Creating New Insulin-Producing Cells To Repair Damaged Pancreas" in August of 2016. In her project, Mussar identified a population of white cells called macrophages residing in the pancreas of newborns that is necessary for islet cells to expand in number as well as to mature into functional insulin-producing cells. Mussar found that a functionally similar population capable of boosting islet proliferation exists in the bone marrow of adult individuals, which suggests that there might be potential for islet repair in adults. The lab Mussar conducts her research in is currently investigating whether this bone marrow population can be used as a cell therapy to enhance the repair process of islet cells in adult mouse models of injury. This project is important because it has identified a different set of white blood cells that may allow the proliferation of insulin producing cells in the pancreas of diabetic patients, offering hope for a cure.

5. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, how will your organization be promoting the Cause?

We're launching a 30-day matching gift campaign to promote our General Fund. The fund covers program costs that support our research projects, as well as operating expenses. During the Double Your Dollars for Diabetes campaign, DRC will match donations made to the fund (up to $25,000 in matching), and on Giving Tuesday, DRC will quadruple its matching contribution. In addition, we are encourage holiday shoppers to purchase gifts through the AmazonSmile Program and select DRC as their nonprofit of choice to receive a small donation from the online retailer. More information will be available on our website prior to our November 1st launch.

6. Where can people learn more about your research projects?

People can learn more about DRC and our projects by visiting our website at diabetesresearchconnection.org. We encourage visitors to join the DRC family by signing up for our monthly newsletter or becoming a donor.