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diabetes

Funding a cure for

type 1 diabetes

Doctors and scientists based at the Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research and Westmead Hospital have been awarded $3.3 million to extend their research into a clinical cure for type 1 diabetes — a chronic autoimmune disease affecting 120,000 Australians.

T

successful. But so far its use has been limited to a

treat the disease before diabetes has manifested,”

small number of patients with so-called ‘brittle’

Professor O’Connell said.

diabetes.

“It will allow us to concentrate on prevention

“The current need for transplant recipients

and cure — so that one day, patients won’t

ype 1 diabetes destroys the body’s

to take powerful drugs for the rest of their lives

need insulin injections or pumps, and medical

insulin-producing cells, which normally prevent

to prevent islet rejection means the technique has

complications will be a thing of the past.”

blood-sugar levels from becoming dangerously high.

been reserved for people with life-threatening

The four-year research program will aim to

As noted by Professor Philip O’Connell, the leader

undetected hypoglycaemia and is not suitable for

develop alternative strategies that promote immune

of the Westmead research, “Until now, treatment

children or younger patients,” he said.

tolerance towards transplanted pancreatic islets,

has focused on managing the consequences and

Now, the Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Research

thereby making islet transplantation a viable

Network (T1DCRN) has awarded Professor

option for a wider range of Australians living with

Professor O’Connell and his team have sought

O’Connell’s team a grant to advance this research.

type 1 diabetes.

to change this, taking insulin-producing islet cells

The network’s funding is designed to plug the gap

“The average age of patients when they

from a donor pancreas and infusing them into

between lab-based research and expensive clinical

suffer the onset of type 1 diabetes is just 11 years,

the liver of a patient with type 1 diabetes via the

trials that prevents new type 1 diabetes treatments

so if we could successfully use pancreatic islet

portal vein. There, the islet cells populate and start

entering widespread use.

transplantation in the young, it would solve

complications of type 1 diabetes.”

producing insulin, providing a practical cure for an otherwise debilitating disease.

“Winning a grant of this size allows us to

a significant problem,” Professor O’Connell

assemble the necessary expertise to develop a

said. He added that the research could bring his

Professor O’Connell said clinical trials

completely new therapeutic paradigm, which

team closer to “achieving the goal of drug-free

underway at Westmead Hospital and elsewhere

not only has the potential to improve islet

immunosuppression, which may benefit the

since 2006 have proven the technique to be highly

transplantation but will also have the potential to

recipients of other types of transplants”.

4 | LAB+LIFE SCIENTIST - October 2015

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