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2023 in review – a year of progress and breakthroughs

It’s been an incredible year for advancements in type 1 diabetes research and treatments. We take a look at the progress we made in 2023, funded by you, our supporters. 
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Kate Lawton 12 December 2023

Dr Gavin Bewick, a type 1 diabetes researcher working on developing a drug to protect beta cells, in his lab.

January

The year got off to an exciting start, with NICE publishing draft guidance indicating that hybrid closed loop (HCL) technology might soon be available on the NHS for over 100,000 people with type 1 diabetes. Read on for the developments later in the year!

Connect Immune Research, an innovative research partnership between organisations working with autoimmune conditions and co-led by JDRF UK, welcomed Myaware as its tenth partner. Myaware is the only charity in the UK focusing on people affected by myasthenia, a group of conditions, most of which are autoimmune, that causes weakness in the body’s voluntary muscles and the muscles that control breathing.

 

February

February saw progress in research into type 1 diabetes complications. JDRF-funded Professor Sam El-Osta and his team in Australia developed a genetic test to detect diabetic kidney disease early, potentially limiting how many people with type 1 experience kidney failure and need invasive treatments such as dialysis.

 

March

March was a busy month for JDRF!

The £50 million Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, our partnership with Diabetes UK, funded by the Steve Morgan Foundation in the UK’s largest ever philanthropic gift for type 1 research, awarded £5 million to three exceptional scientists. Dr James Cantley, Dr Victoria Salem and Professor Sarah Richardson’s projects will look at ways to grow back beta cells, how to protect new beta cells from being attacked by the immune system, and how and why the immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin, causing type 1.

We continued our work to get more researchers working in the field of type 1 research. We partnered with the Daphne Jackson Trust to sponsor a fellowship for a researcher to return to work after a career break and make a difference in the field of type 1 diabetes.

We announced the recipients of our Small Grant Awards, which give small amounts of funding to type 1 diabetes researchers to kick-start their careers and research areas. Dr Joanne Boldison, Dr Fiona Docherty and Dr Nicholas Thomas’ projects will investigate the role of immune cells called B-cells, look at levels of C-peptides (which show how much insulin is released into the body) and how to grow beta cells that release more insulin than the ones that have already been developed.

A JDRF-funded clinical trial found that verapamil, a drug used to treat high blood pressure, slowed the progression of type 1 diabetes in newly diagnosed children and adolescents. To continue this momentum in disease-modifying research, we awarded more funding to see the effect of verapamil in people newly diagnosed with type 1 over three years, and funded Professor Colin Dayan to test whether using verapamil and teplizumab together could see even more effective results.

April

In April there were developments in type 1 diabetes treatments and research. HCL technology took another step forward, as Abbot announced that their FreeStyle Libre 3 sensor could now work with Ypsomed’s mylife YpsoPump, using CamDiab’s CamAPS FX, the HCL app pioneered by JDRF-funded innovator, Professor Roman Hovorka.

Researchers in the US transplanted genetically engineered beta cells into mice that avoided the immune attack that causes type 1. At King’s College London, researchers found that African Caribbean people with type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to sight loss – an important development in our understanding of type 1 complications.

May

In May, The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge brought together leading experts and researchers from around the world in a symposium on novel insulins. The symposium explored the latest breakthroughs, challenges and ambitious ideas for new types of insulin, including glucose responsive insulins, oral insulins and even a pill that could inject insulin directly into the stomach wall.

June

In June, we had the huge honour of our President, Her Majesty The Queen, visiting University College London to see the work that Professor Lucy Walker is leading as part of the Connect Immune Research partnership. She spoke with Professor Walker and the team about their research into how to stop the immune attack that causes type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune conditions.

Her Majesty the Queen talking to women researchers at a research laboratory

Elsewhere, a team of researchers from the universities of Lincoln, Exeter and Nottingham Trent, co-funded by JDRF and Diabetes UK, identified 13 genes involved in immune responses, which are activated specifically in people who develop type 1 diabetes at a young age. This opens opportunities to finding new therapies to prevent type 1 in young children.

We welcomed two new board members, Nadia Swann and Sarah Johnson, who both bring exceptional skills, knowledge and passion to the JDRF UK board.

Insulet launched the first tubeless hybrid closed loop system, integrating the Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitor via the Omnipod 5 Controller.

July

In July, a JDRF-funded study in Australia established that it was possible to turn human pancreatic ductal cells (cells in the pancreas that produce hormones before adulthood) into cells that can sense glucose and release insulin. The proof of concept study sets the foundation for more research in this area.

August

August saw us respond to the consultation by NICE which proposed a five-year rollout of HCL technology, rather than the usual three months. This was due to a number of factors including the capacity of clinics to deliver the technology, the need for specialist support and getting it to the people who need it most.

September

In September, we published the results of our survey which examined attitudes to sport and physical exercise in people with type 1. The survey found that half of people with type 1 felt held back from physical activity and exercise and that almost half had experienced stigmatising comments about exercise and type 1. The findings form a basis for our continuing work with partner organisations, such as The Football Association of Wales and The Diabetes Football Community, to improve the lives of people living with type 1.

October

October was packed month of news!

A JDRF-funded clinical trial in Norway found that antiviral drugs pleconaril and ribavirin could help preserve the function of the insulin-producing beta cells of children newly diagnosed with type 1. In the trial, the amount of insulin the children could produce dropped by only 11% in those taking the antivirals, compared to 24% in the placebo group.

A JDRF-supported trial into the benefits of HCL for pregnant women found that those using the technology spent more time their target glucose range, without experiencing additional hypos. Women using HCL also gained less weight through the pregnancy and had improved blood pressure, as well as needing fewer appointments and out-of-hours support from maternity services.

We awarded a £1.3 million grant to King’s College London and Steno Diabetes Center, Copenhagen, to examine how SGLT inhibitors (existing drugs used to reduce the progression of kidney disease) could be used in people with type 1 who have kidney disease, marking a step forward in research into the complications of type 1.

Approved by the FDA in the US in 2022, teplizumab is an immunotherapy developed through JDRF-funded research, that can delay the onset of type 1 by three years. In October, a new JDRF-funded study into the effect of teplizumab in people newly diagnosed with type 1, showed that the drug can keep beta cells working for longer in children and adolescents who have had a recent diagnosis.

We awarded researchers at the University of Dundee £1.5 million for a clinical trial that could advance a life-saving treatment for people with type 1 and heart failure. Led by Dr Ify Mordi, a Senior Lecturer in Cardiology, the study will look at the effect of a drug called sotagliflozin on the quality of life of approximately 300 people with type 1 across the UK.

Professor Roman Hovorka, who we have funded since 2006 to develop HCL technology, was awarded the prestigious ASD-Novo Nordisk Foundation Diabetes Prize for Excellence for his influential contribution to developing type 1 technology.

With the ELSA programme firmly establish in England, Wales and Scotland, in October the programme launched in Northern Ireland. Co-funded by JDRF and Diabetes UK, the programme tests children for their chance of developing type 1 diabetes. This allows families to prepare for a type 1 diagnosis and prevent life-threatening diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). In future, those with a high chance of developing type 1 may also be offered immunotherapies like teplizumab.

November

In November, Diabetes Awareness Month, came the big news from NICE that we’d been waiting all year for – HCL was set to be available to more people on the NHS in England and Wales, making Great Britain the first country in the world to offer this life-changing technology for free. It was a moment for celebration, after almost two decades of JDRF-funded research which has made HCL a reality. Work now begins to make HCL available to everyone with type 1 who wants or needs it.

November saw new research, co-funded by JDRF, that highlighted the effectiveness of immunotherapies for treating people newly diagnosed with type 1, potentially making it easier to manage. The global team of researchers, made up of leading immunologists from JDRF, Cardiff University, Critical Path Institute, University of Alberta and Colorado University found that drugs that target the immune system offer very effective and rapid improvements in stabilising blood sugar levels, often within just three months.

December

December got off to a flying start with another research breakthrough. A JDRF-funded clinical trial in Australia showed that a drug, Baricitinib, that is commonly prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis and alopecia, can preserve the body’s own insulin production and slow the progression of type 1 diabetes in newly diagnosed people. The breakthrough saw JDRF UK’s Director of Research Partnerships, Rachel Connor, featured on Radio 4’s Today Programme, hourly news bulletins on Radio 2 and Radio 4, as well as a host of online coverage including Sky News, The Sun, The Mirror and the Independent.

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge invested over £13 million of funding to support six outstanding research teams to fast-track discoveries that could make huge strides in how we treat type 1 diabetes. The teams, made up of 49 scientists, working at 22 different institutions in the UK and Europe, will focus on helping people with type 1 make their own insulin again and stopping the immune attack that causes type 1.

We also welcomed a new partner, Juvenile Arthritis Research to the Connect Immune Research partnership!

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