Diabetes Research Initiative Funds 32 Scientists
BOSTON, MA--September 10, 1998--Hoping to put a cure for Type 1 diabetes on a fast track, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International (JDF) and Harvard Medical School have focused an unprecedented combination of experts in diabetes and many other scientific fields on finding a cure for diabetes.
The new JDF Center for Islet Cell Transplantation at Harvard Medical School will launch an ambitious multidisciplinary attack on one of diabetes' most tantalizing yet frustrating fields of research--replacing the body's natural insulin-producing cells, which have been destroyed in people with Type 1 diabetes.* The Foundation will provide approximately $20 million over the next five years to the researchers, who include Harvard faculty at nine institutions.
"We at JDF are proud to see our dream of successful islet cell transplantation without immunosuppression put on the fast track," said JDF Chairman of the Board John J. McDonough. "As someone who has had Type 1 diabetes for 56 years, and as the parent of a daughter with Type 1, I want to assure her, and all those who suffer from diabetes, that we are doing everything possible to find the cure.
"For 28 years the tireless support of our volunteers has helped advance diabetes research worldwide. Now, thanks to the Florence DeGeorge Islet Research Challenge Grant, which provided initial funding for this Center, we are able to fund this highly collaborative, goal-oriented approach, which we hope will act as a model for all of our research programs," added McDonough.
The new Center is made possible through a $5 million pledge named the Florence A. DeGeorge Islet Research Challenge Grant. The DeGeorge family foundation has provided these funds to help find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research. "Our concern has always been to accelerate a cure for this devastating disease through islet cell research. We believe that the initiative with the Harvard Medical School and associated researchers points the way in accelerating islet cell research and transplantation as a potential way of accomplishing our goal," said Lawrence DeGeorge. "My wife, Florence, and our whole family are pleased to be able to make this contribution to this important and innovative Center."
Diabetes kills one American every three minutes and reduces life expectancy by as much as one-third. It consumes one out of every eight U.S. health-care dollars. Millions of people with diabetes--including many infants--depend on several insulin injections a day to stay alive, while facing a future of severe disability and premature death.
The new center's goal is a cure. The 32 researchers at the JDF Center for Islet Cell Transplantation at Harvard Medical School will work collaboratively to discover how to transplant insulin-producing islet cells without the recipients needing a lifetime of immunosuppressants, which can have even more devastating long-term effects than the disease itself.
Until now, many of these world-renowned researchers had not applied their expertise directly to diabetes. "My entire career has been focused on basic developmental biology, until now," said Doug Melton, professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and one of the Center's lead researchers. "My seven-year-old son, Sam, has diabetes and I think the new Center provides us with the chance to extensively and collectively study--and hopefully find a cure for--this chronic and complex disease."
The Center will follow a business-oriented model to tackle the major obstacles that still block safe, workable islet cell transplants. Researchers, their projects, and the Center will receive annual performance reviews; funding is contingent upon progress achieved towards the Center's goals; and attendance at monthly think-tank style meetings is required to identify promising approaches and ensure continued coordination. Collaboration means individual work will be guided by both positive and negative outcomes of others.
"The most interesting and productive science today is multidisciplinary," said Harvard Medical School Dean Joseph B. Martin. "The level of detailed knowledge in most fields is now so vast that the next advances will come through intertwining knowledge from diverse fields. This work in Type 1 diabetes is a great example of the opportunities for multidisciplinary science when the broad Harvard medical community collaborates."
Key gaps in diabetes research knowledge were identified last year when a JDF task force mapped out what was known about the disease, the current state of diabetes-related research, and its founders' main goal of a cure in their children's lifetime. Center scientists will focus on major strategies to close knowledge gaps in four high-priority areas identified in the JDF maps: specifically, islet transplantation, tolerance induction, autoimmunity, and expansion of islet cell supply.
In order to cure Type 1 diabetes via islet cell transplantation, researchers have to figure out how to conquer two different types of immune problems, autoimmunity and tolerance. They must turn off the autoimmune response that destroyed the patients' original islet cells so that the new ones aren't attacked; they also have to create tolerance to the foreign cells that would otherwise be destroyed by the type of immune response that attacks any transplanted organ. Scientists then must find a plentiful source of replacement islet cells, from tissue culture, animals, or genetic manipulation.
Most of the center's 32 researchers are Harvard faculty at the University, Medical School, School of Public Health, and Harvard-affiliated Boston medical institutions, such as Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Joslin Diabetes Center, and Massachusetts General Hospital. Additional expertise was recruited from Charlestown, Mass.-based Diacrin, Inc., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Minnesota.
Scientists are optimistic about the progress possible with this mission-oriented center, but they remain cautious about building up false hope in patients. "Diabetes presents a set of large and complex problems," said Center director Hugh Auchincloss, Jr., associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and transplant surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital. "But huge progress has been made in the last five years, and there's every reason to believe that the rate of progress will continue and accelerate."
Because other diseases share some of the same underlying problems, advances toward a cure for diabetes may also help people with arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.
JDF is the leading non-profit, non-governmental funding source for diabetes research in the world. "JDF was founded by the parents of children with diabetes who promised to find a cure in their children's lifetime," said McDonough. "We will keep that promise." * Diabetes is a chronic, genetically determined, debilitating disease affecting every organ system. Insulin is not a cure, but merely life support. Type 1 diabetes is caused by the autoimmune destruction of the insulin producing cells of the pancreas and is usually, though not always, diagnosed in childhood.
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The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International (JDF) was founded in 1970 by parents of children with diabetes who were convinced that diabetes could be cured through research. They were and still are determined to make that cure happen in their children's lifetime.
Materials provided by Harvard Medical School. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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