Professor Colin Dayan is a clinical professor at Cardiff University, and has worked on several JDRF funded projects. His current focus is on immunotherapy, an area of research that attempts to change the behaviour of the immune system. For type 1 diabetes, this would mean ‘re-training’ the immune system to stop the attack on the insulin producing beta cells of the pancreas.
How did you get involved in type 1 research?
I very much enjoyed immunology as an undergraduate medical student. Since qualifying I have been struck by how hard the daily struggle is with insulin and blood glucose control for many patients with type 1. So looking for an immunological solution to slow or prevent the loss of beta cells seemed exactly where my research interests lay.
Has JDRF’s support made a difference to your research?
Very much so. My research often involves work directly with patients which is often slow and time-consuming due to regulatory hurdles. But it is very important and JDRF have been willing to support “new ideas” that other funders might not consider. JDRF’s patience with the challenges of clinical research and commitment to innovation have been very valuable.
What keeps you motivated in your work as a scientist?
I work as a clinician and see patients with type 1 every week. Just one hour in the clinic reminds me why this work is important and the stories my patients tell me never cease to provide motivation. And when I meet a person who has just heard that they have been diagnosed, I long to be able to offer something different from the treatments we already have. And that sends me back to the research lab raring to go too.
What is your hope for your research in the future?
Type 1 is almost the only major autoimmune disease now that does not have a licensed immunotherapy. With the explosion in biologics available for other treatments, I am sure there are available therapies that will slow the loss of insulin in type 1 – we just need to find which one. And the “blue-sky” research can then follow-on with ways to safely prevent the disease at a stage before it is clinically diagnosed. I would then view it that it would be rare to diagnose type 1 in childhood and most patients diagnosed would have easier control for many years after diagnosis. The step after that is a prevention programme to eradicate the disease altogether.
When not in the lab, how do you spend your free time?
The rest of my time is “family come first time”.