JDRF Capitol Chapter Hosts Research Summit

Scientist at work in the lab

Shared connections to type 1 diabetes (T1D) brought together more than 600 people at the recent JDRF Type 1 Diabetes Research Summit held in Washington, D.C. Hosted by the JDRF Capitol Chapter, this one-day event was filled with informative, easy-to-understand presentations by top T1D researchers. Attendees had the opportunity to hear directly from these top researchers, meet with them and ask questions, and discuss what JDRF is doing to realize the goal of a world without T1D.

Nicole Johnson, a member of JDRF’s International Board of Directors and a T1D advocate, welcomed attendees and encouraged them to learn more about the research presented, which included beta cell encapsulation, expanding beta cell mass, and the Artificial Pancreas Project. T1D research encompasses many fields of study, and the three areas of research highlighted at the summit offer potential new pathways to deliver life-changing therapies and ultimately a cure.

One of JDRF’s major areas of funding is research to develop a commercially viable artificial pancreas system to mimic the biological function of the pancreas. An artificial pancreas system uses computer algorithms to link insulin delivery to a continuous glucose monitor and can respond to blood-glucose fluctuations in real time. The technology has the potential to dramatically improve the lives and health of millions of people with T1D by reducing life-threatening extremes in blood-glucose levels and minimizing the risk of long-term complications. A panel discussion on JDRF’s Artificial Pancreas Project kicked off the event. The panelists included several members of the University of Virginia’s Center for Diabetes Technology, which is coordinating clinical trials of an artificial pancreas system.

In the latest round of testing, the artificial pancreas operated on a control-to-range system, Boris Kovatchev, Ph.D., director of the Center for Diabetes Technology, told attendees. A control-to-range system enables the user to pre-set a desired blood-glucose range, within which the artificial pancreas actively works to keep blood-glucose levels. (Blood-glucose levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter. A physician may suggest a healthy target range is between 70 and 120 mg/dL). Dr. Kovatchev said that the artificial pancreas system helped keep trial participants near an average blood-glucose of 144 mg/dL in the hospital, and when the participants were using it in an outpatient setting, the average blood-glucose range was only slightly higher—at 147 mg/dL. “Even outside of a hospital setting, the artificial pancreas system can manage blood-glucose levels,” Dr. Kovatchev said. “The results from this trial give us hope that the device will one day be available to everyone.”

One of the hallmarks of T1D is the loss of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. But Christopher B. Newgard, Ph.D., a JDRF-funded researcher and director of the Sarah W. Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center at Duke University, is looking at the ways certain genes may expand beta cell mass. Building on previous research that showed that mice with type 2 diabetes can expand beta cell mass as they gain weight, Dr. Newgard has set out to find biological pathways that may lead to beta cell expansion and growth in people with T1D. “We want to learn how to protect beta cells and prevent them from dying to stop the progression of type 1 diabetes,” Dr. Newgard said.

To protect transplanted beta cells from immune attack, researchers are working to build a bioengineered “shield” around them—an approach referred to as encapsulation. The goal is for these encapsulated beta cells to sense a person’s blood-glucose levels, produce insulin as needed, and persist in the long term, said Albert Hwa, Ph.D., JDRF’s senior scientific program manager for beta cell therapies. Dr. Hwa introduced JDRF-funded researcher Daniel G. Anderson, Ph.D., the Samuel A. Goldblith Associate Professor at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Anderson told participants about the new materials his research team is working with to better perfect the process of islet encapsulation. “We are making microcapsules that will house islets or beta cells, and hopefully those can be implanted in humans one day,” Dr. Anderson said. He and his team are also developing microscopic particles that support the therapeutic delivery of drugs. In relation to T1D, this research will develop biomaterials for glucose-responsive drug-delivery systems and sensors.

Summit attendees enjoyed the unique opportunity to engage with the researchers directly throughout the day, both in large-format Q&A sessions and more casual one-one-one conversations. For the adults and children living with T1D, as well as donors, supporters, and JDRF volunteers and staff, the takeaway was clear: JDRF is working toward delivering life-changing therapies and, ultimately, a world without T1D.