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New JDRF grant will help early career researchers explore fresh ideas in type 1 diabetes

Cardiff University researcher Dr James Pearson is the first recipient of a new JDRF grant designed to test new ideas and expand the horizons of type 1 diabetes research.
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Kate Lawton 9 September 2021
James Pearson

Dr James Pearson, recipient of the first JDRF Small Grant Award, is a type 1 diabetes researcher at Cardiff University

Cardiff University researcher Dr James Pearson is the first recipient of a new JDRF grant designed to test new ideas and expand the horizons of type 1 diabetes research.

Dr Pearson will explore whether the time of day affects the immune system’s ability to regulate itself.

This knowledge could change our understanding of how to discover and test new ways to cure or prevent type 1 diabetes.

Dr Pearson’s project will be funded through the new JDRF UK Small Grant Awards programme, which offers researchers up to £15,000 to test out new concepts that might otherwise go unexplored.

A further two projects funded by the programme are due to begin in October 2021, based at the University of Exeter.

Improving our understanding of the immune system

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks insulin-producing cells – meaning that its regulatory mechanisms have failed to work as they should.

That is why many researchers are studying how the immune system regulates itself, as a route to discovering treatments that prevent or cure type 1.

However, if the time of day affects how well the immune system can regulate itself, this suggests that a treatment to boost the immune system’s regulation would be more – or less – effective at different times.

Dr Pearson’s work could therefore have significant implications for researchers testing new molecules in the lab for their potential to become new drugs for curing or preventing type 1 diabetes.

It could also affect the way clinical trials of these potential treatments are run, to maximise their chances of success.

Funding to explore new ideas in type 1 diabetes

The JDRF UK Small Grant Awards programme was set up to fill a hole in the type 1 diabetes funding pipeline.

Currently, to secure funding for large-scale projects, researchers first need early data to build a strong case for financial support.

However, as university budgets have become more constrained, it has become increasingly challenging to obtain the funding to generate this early data. Some funders offer one-year grant schemes to support new ideas, but the application processes also require extensive pilot data – creating a vicious cycle.

The Small Grant Awards programme enables UK-based early career researchers to apply for up to £15,000 for short-term pilot projects. Applications are assessed by the JDRF UK Scientific Advisory Council, with support from external reviewers, and JDRF will be closely monitoring if these awards lead to type 1 researchers securing further grants to develop these ideas.

Rachel Connor, Director of Research Partnerships at JDRF in the UK, said: “For years, researchers have reported to us that it is extremely difficult to get funding for small-scale pilot projects that enable them to explore new ideas and concepts. This means that these fresh ideas can often go unexplored for years.

“We believe that the Small Grant Awards programme will help early career researchers to overcome this challenge, meaning that more great ideas from type 1 diabetes researchers are picked up for further support.”

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