What did we learn at the Immunology of Diabetes Congress 2018?

Author: Paz's story | Posted: 30 October 2018

Senior Research Communications and Engagement Officer Paz García and Director of Research Partnerships Rachel Connor attended the IDS Congress in Westminster from the 25th October – 29th October 2018.

Last week saw over 450 of the world’s top immunologists – researchers who study the immune system – gather in London for the Immunology of Diabetes Congress 2018. Conferences like these are an excellent opportunity for researchers to present their latest work to a specialist audience, and get some discussions going about how best to take the research forward.

The conference actually started an evening early for JDRF and our supporters, as we hosted a Discovery Evening in partnership with the conference organisers. At this event, people living with type 1 diabetes, plus their family and friends, heard from top UK and international immunologists about progress in the field towards finding new ways of stopping or slowing the progression of the condition. We heard updates on the TrialNet and Fr1da screening and prevention programmes from Dr Carla Greenbaum and Professor Anette Ziegler, and about ongoing immunotherapy trials in the UK from Professors Mark Peakman, John Todd and Colin Dayan.

At the conference itself, we attended sessions ranging from research networks such as TEDDY and INNODIA, to talks covering new techniques that will drive research forward much faster. I was really pleased to see that a number of speakers who work primarily on other conditions were also invited to speak, and one session was given over entirely to lessons learnt from other diseases. Type 1 diabetes is one of over 80 autoimmune conditions, which share many similarities. It was therefore fascinating to hear about research into coeliac disease and multiple sclerosis, and how it could inform type 1 research.

What I enjoyed the most however were the two debates. These really highlighted the diversity of opinions and range of research into type 1 diabetes, and that not everything is black or white – in most cases, it’s shades of grey. In the first debate, five researchers battled it out to convince the audience that their field of research was the Achilles’ heel of type 1 diabetes. Multiple rounds of debate with audience votes in between kept the discussion lively yet friendly, and ultimately JDRF-funded Dr Sarah Richardson was victorious – she managed to convince us that viruses are the key to defeating type 1 diabetes, and earned herself a mini statue of Big Ben as a prize!

In the second debate, we heard some great talks from Professor John Todd and Professor Jay Skyler, who were discussing whether we should seek to understand the subtypes of type 1 diabetes first and run smaller, more specific clinical trials, or whether we should run large clinical trials with broad groups of people and then later look at the effects of the new treatment on different subgroups. It was interesting to see how the vote changed – most people were initially in favour of smaller trials based on subtypes, but by the end, the room was convinced we needed larger clinical trials first which we could later analyse.

All in all, I really enjoyed hearing the latest research and catching up with some of our JDRF-funded researchers (I even managed to grab a couple for some quick video interviews, available here). The overall feeling from everyone who attended was that it was an excellent event, so a big thanks to the organising committee and the British Society for Immunology for putting the event together.

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