Toronto, ON, March 4, 2019 – Two pioneering Canadian investigators pursuing careers in type 1 diabetes research have each been awarded a post-doctoral fellowship ($60,000 CAD), thanks to a longstanding partnership between Eli Lilly Canada Inc. (Lilly Canada) and JDRF Canada.
The program that disburses these fellowships, which is called the JDRF Canadian Clinical Trial Network (CCTN) Eli Lilly Post-doctoral Fellowship in Clinical Translation in Type 1 Diabetes, is a generous and vital investment in the area of type 1 diabetes research. It provides incentive for young investigators to further their medical studies and establish themselves as future leaders in the field.
“The JDRF and Lilly Canada Fellowship Program is an important investment in our next generation of scientists and researchers who continue to advance our understanding of diabetes,” says Dr. Joanne Lorraine, Diabetes medical director at Lilly Canada. “Today’s post-doctoral fellows have the opportunity to positively change the landscape for Canadians living with this disease, and to bring us one step closer to a world without type 1 diabetes.”
The 2018 recipients of the postdoctoral fellowship grants are:
Investigator: Kirsten Ward-Hartstonge, MD, University of British Columbia
Project: Harmonized biomarkers to measure response to ustekinumab in type 1 diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, cells from the immune system called T-cells attack and destroy insulin-producing beta cells, leaving affected individuals with a lifelong dependence on insulin. Even with insulin injections, blood glucose control is imperfect, leading to an increased risk of complications, including chronic hyperglycemia and a shortened life span. Preliminary work demonstrated that a biological drug, known as ustekinumab, can be safely administered to young adults with new onset diabetes. Results from this pilot study also indicated that changes in immune cells may predict clinical responses to ustekinumab.
Two multi-centre clinical trials in the UK and Canada have recently been planned to test the ability of ustekinumab to halt the progression of type 1 diabetes in children or young adults with recent onset type 1 diabetes (i.e. within 100 days of diagnosis). The UK trial includes 72 children aged 12 to 18, and the Canadian trial includes 66 young adults aged 18 to 25. These larger trials will be harmonized to allow results to be compared across both trials. In order to harmonize both studies, Dr. Hartstonge and her collaborators will standardize assays and laboratory protocols at both trial locations. Blood samples will be taken from participants before and at multiple time points post-therapy. Sample collection time, processing and storage conditions will be standardized and cross-lab training will be performed. The harmonization of these independent trials will increase statistical power to more rapidly determine whether or not ustekinumab is an effective treatment and if immune cells can act as biomarkers to predict a response to treatment.
Investigator: Rangarajan Sambathkumar, PhD, University Health Network (TO)
Project: Genome engineering approaches to improve the functional maturation of insulin-producing beta cells from human pluripotent stem cells
Dr. Sambathkumar and his team are focusing on improving beta cell maturation from human embryonic stem cells (hESC) for the development of a cell-based therapy for type 1 diabetes.
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC) may offer an option to large scale replacement therapy, since they have the ability to divide indefinitely. In recent years, much progress has been made in the generation of insulin-producing beta-like cells from various hPSC lines. These cell lines are not fully mature, and resemble fetal beta cells more than they do adult beta cells. The goal of this project is to improve functional beta cell maturation in vitro using genetic engineering approaches. With the creation of a more functional beta cell for transplantation, this research may contribute to beta cell regeneration therapies that could cure type 1 diabetes.
About JDRF Canada:
JDRF is the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. Our goal is to raise funds to support the most advanced international T1D research and progressively remove the impact of this disease from people’s lives – until we achieve a world without T1D. JDRF collaborates with a wide spectrum of partners and is the only organization with the scientific resources, regulatory influence, and a working plan to better treat, prevent, and eventually cure T1D. JDRF is the largest charitable supporter of T1D research. For more information, please visit jdrf.ca.
About Eli Lilly Canada (Lilly Canada):
Eli Lilly and Company is a global healthcare leader that unites caring with discovery to make life better for people around the world. We were founded more than a century ago by Colonel Eli Lilly, who was committed to creating high quality medicines that meet people’s needs, and today we remain true to that mission in all our work. Lilly employees work to discover and bring life-changing medicines to people who need them, improve the understanding and management of disease, and contribute to our communities through philanthropy and volunteerism.
Eli Lilly Canada was established in 1938, the result of a research collaboration with scientists at the University of Toronto which eventually produced the world’s first commercially-available insulin. Our work focuses on oncology, diabetes, autoimmunity, neurodegeneration, and pain. To learn more about Lilly Canada, please visit us at www.lilly.ca.
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