Our resource hub is home to a wealth of articles, stories and videos about managing and living with type 1 diabetes.
Place your order for our free information packs that support adults and children who have been recently diagnosed.
Our researchers are working on different ways to develop a cure for type 1 diabetes - from growing insulin-producing beta cells in labs to hacking the immune system.
Learn about the technologies that can deliver insulin automatically when needed. And discover the next generation of insulins that are currently being developed.
You could win a cash prize of up to £25,000 when you play the JDRF lottery. As well as the chance to win great prizes, you’ll also help fund our research to find a cure for type 1 diabetes.
Your donations help support people living with type 1 diabetes today and fund the best treatment and cure research, no matter where in the world it takes place.
The announcement is the biggest treatment breakthrough for type 1 diabetes since the discovery of insulin.
This event was designed for anyone living with type 1 diabetes who would like to learn more about managing their wellbeing across a variety of contexts.
We provide a wealth of information and free resources to help you support and empower your patients or students.
Take our free course for schools to learn more about supporting pupils with type 1 diabetes in educational settings.
Home > News & events > News > JDRF-funded researchers make pancreatic ductal cells sense and release insulin
Researcher Safiya Naina Marikar
In a JDRF-funded research project in Australia, scientists have turned human pancreatic ductal cells into insulin-producing cells, offering promise for restoring the ability to make insulin in people living with type 1 diabetes. The researchers stimulated ductal cells taken from a human pancreas with small molecule inhibitors to influence the cells to sense glucose and release insulin.
This study builds on the team’s research from 2022, where they used the same drug to turn the insulin gene back in cells taken from the pancreas donated by someone who was living with type 1. You can find out more about this research in our news story.
The tubes running through the pancreas are lined with ductal cells. While our bodies are still developing, ductal cells can turn into hormone-producing cells, thanks to certain genes. Unfortunately, this function is lost by adulthood, so people living with type 1 diabetes can’t grow new beta cells to replace those destroyed by the immune attack. But this exciting research suggests we may be able to influence the ductal cells to restore insulin secretion.
A diagram of the pancreas and part of the small intestine.
This JDRF-funded research study showed that, by changing their genes, ductal cells can be influenced to produce insulin and effectively replacing the lost beta cell function. The experiment was done on human cells in a dish, so researchers are hopeful that it could be the start of a treatment to regenerate beta-like cells in people living with type 1 diabetes.
Lead researcher Safiya Marikar said: “Our research shows great promise at reducing the insulin dependency of people with type 1 around the world. By stimulating the cells already present in the ducts of the pancreas, in theory we should be able to re-awaken their insulin producing capabilities. Although, we need to research this further to determine how this could be used as a treatment for type 1.”
Safiya Marikar said: “Since we are trying to stimulate cells that people with type 1 already have, we hope to rely less on organ donors to replace lost beta cells. We are currently facing a massive shortage of donors for islet transplants. This is because multiple donors are required to get enough islets to resolve the insulin dependency in just one person living with type 1 diabetes.”
Islets are clusters of cells including the insulin-producing beta cells. Other issues with islet transplants include the risks associated with any surgery and the need for immunosuppressants drugs. This means only people who are really struggling to manage their type 1 are offered islet transplants.
This study is a proof-of-concept study, which is a type of research project that comes early in the research pipeline. These studies are crucial to establish how theories work so that new treatments can be developed from a solid foundation of knowledge.
Professor Sam El-Osta, who supervises Safiya, who is undertaking her doctoral studies, said: “Until now, we haven’t fully understood the molecular process of regenerating beta cells in the pancreas. We had seen that stimulating cells with small molecule inhibitors influence regenerative genes and the secretion of insulin release from cells derived from pancreas. More importantly, our studies show this regenerative capacity exists in pancreatic cells from type 1 donors with absolute destruction of beta cells. Our research group has demonstrated that we can partly restore the critical switch that turns these genes back on by reprogramming ductal cells to release insulin in response to glucose.”
Safiya’s research has filled some of the gaps in our knowledge, but we need more studies to develop the idea further. Her work adds evidence for a proposed epigenetic theory, but we need to learn more about the exact mechanism before we can take it forward to trials in animals and humans. We also need to figure out which of the ductal cells are being targeted and fine tune this to develop a method that can be used to treat people living with type 1.
Researchers who are early in their careers don’t have the experience behind them to secure large grants, like the JDRF funding Professor El-Osta previously received. Working with established scientists on large projects is a great way for early career scientists to gain this vital experience.
Discussing the role of early career scientists in clinical research, Professor El-Osta said: “Safiya is quite simply one of the two or three most outstanding young students that I have encountered in the last 20 years. By connecting university students with accomplished scientists in technology fields, our new Human Epigenomics Program at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute aims to increase student numbers going into regenerative biology and clinical diabetes research.”
We are proud to work with scientists like Professor El-Osta who champion and support the next generation of type 1 diabetes researchers.
You can access the full research paper, published in the journal Clinical Epigenetics.
A transplant of stem cells grown into pancreatic islets has allowed a primate with type 1 to make its own insulin again.
Researchers have developed a new oral insulin that travels in an inactive state to the liver and is only activated by rising blood glucose levels.
We could be one step closer to replacing the need for regular insulin injections in people living with type 1 diabetes, thanks to JDRF-funded research in Australia published this week in the Nature journal.
In an historic advancement in the treatment of type 1 diabetes, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) today approves hybrid closed loop for the majority of people living with type 1 diabetes in England and Wales.
Immunotherapy, beta cell replacement, smart insulins – we’re driving research in the most promising areas to find cures and better treatments for type 1 diabetes.