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Senator The Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, and The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health and Minister for Sport, have today announced the recipients of Innovation Award grants for research into type 1 diabetes.

Three bold, promising research projects have been selected and will benefit from $4.5 million in funding from the Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Research Network (T1DCRN), itself an innovative clinical research program led by JDRF Australia and funded by a Special Research Initiative through the Australian Research Council (ARC).

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In an exciting paradigm shift that aims to accelerate patient impact, the research funded by the Innovation Award grants will explore new directions in the search for a cure for type 1 diabetes, including concepts that have never before been investigated.

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the research funding would go to “some of Australia’s brightest minds” to search for a cure for type 1 diabetes. “This funding is about ensuring no stone is left unturned in the search for a cure for type 1 diabetes,” Minister Birmingham said. “The Innovation Award grants encourage creativity and new ways of thinking and nurture and support those smart ideas to help create a better future for Australians, including those with type 1 diabetes and their families.”

Minister Hunt said the funding support for the Innovation Award grants built on more than $35 million the Coalition Government was delivering for research into type 1 diabetes research.

“Researchers from all walks of life are working hard to help people with type 1 diabetes and their families and that sort of cross-discipline collaboration also has the potential to help patients suffering from other diseases,” Minister Hunt said. “With the leadership of JDRF Australia and their Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Research Network, these grants will help strengthen and expand the fantastic skill set, knowledge base and capacity of diabetes researchers.”

The three Award recipients are Associate Professor Charmaine Simeonovic, Australian National University, Associate Professor Stuart Mannering, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research and Associate Professor Shane Grey, Garvan Institute of Medical Research. The recipients were selected based on key criteria, including that:

  • The proposed research is innovative and will be delivered by collaborative and cross-disciplinary research teams, with at least one experienced researcher from outside the field of type 1 diabetes; and
  • If successful, the research will improve the lives of people with type 1 diabetes.

This strategy is expected to strengthen and expand the already-exceptional skill set, knowledge base, and capacity for Australian type 1 diabetes research within the T1DCRN. Moreover, the innovative, cross-disciplinary approach has the potential to extend beyond type 1 diabetes, benefiting patients suffering from other diseases.

While research is indeed progressing, and people with type 1 diabetes are leading better and safer lives, the cure for the chronic disease still remains elusive. JDRF Australia CEO and Managing Director Mike Wilson said that this is why we need to try things that have never been done before, in a bid to fast-track results. “Innovative research introduces new directions that might otherwise be overlooked in favour of funding ‘safe’ projects that deliver smaller, incremental amounts of progress. While funding research that falls outside the traditional type 1 diabetes research paradigms might be regarded as ‘higher-risk’, we believe that the potential benefits make it highly worthwhile,” said Mr Wilson.

The successful grant recipients were chosen by a Review Panel of 12 world-leading type 1 diabetes experts, chaired by Professor Chantal Mathieu, Director of the Endocrinology Clinic at the University Hospital of Leuven, Belgium. These grants are the first of their type to be awarded by the T1DCRN, and the Panel commended the impressive standard of applications and the bold, innovative ideas. 26 researchers from 10 institutions will be supported by this round of funding.

Innovation Award recipient project summaries

Associate Professor Charmaine Simeonovic, Australian National University: Blockade of platelet-neutrophil interactions for T1D prevention and treatment.
This study offers a new angle to the understanding of how insulin producing beta cells are damaged during T1D development. The team will evaluate the role of white blood cells called neutrophils and their interactions with other blood components called platelets. These cells interact to form platelet-neutrophil complexes, and it is proposed that they might play a role in activating the beta cell damage that leads to T1D. This concept has never been investigated in T1D before. By improving our understanding about how beta cells are damaged, we can more effectively develop new drugs that target these destructive processes and block the progression of T1D disease.

Associate Professor Simeonovic is leader of the Simeonovic Group in Diabetes and Transplantation Immunology at The John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Associate Professor Stuart Mannering, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research: Using autologous iPSC-derived beta cells to identify epitopes recognised by human islet-infiltrating CD8+ T-cells.
Immune cells called T cells have been found at the ‘scene of the crime’ in the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas of people with T1D. While we know that T cells have a role in the immune response to beta cells, we still don’t know exactly what is stimulating this response. This team was the first in the world to isolate specialised T cells from the pancreas, due to the sacrifice of people with T1D who donated their organs to research. This study will use the same donors to discover exactly what these immune cells “see” that leads to beta cell destruction. This new knowledge of the exact targets on beta cells could then be used to develop new therapies that turn off the autoimmune response leading to T1D.

Associate Professor Stuart Mannering is Head of the Human T Cell Laboratory at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne.

Associate Professor Shane Grey, Garvan Institute of Medical Research: Defining the “Islet-Helper” Treg to regenerate damaged beta cells.

Zebrafish are often used in medical research due to their incredible ability to regenerate. This team will for the first time look for ways to promote the regeneration or repair of the remaining beta cells in people with T1D. Zebrafish have been found to have a subset of immune cells (“islet helper” Tregs) that produce beta cell growth factors and enable repair and regeneration of islets after damage. It is thought that a similar subset of cells may exist in humans. Using cutting edge zebrafish and mouse studies, they will uncover the function of these cells and test their potential in repairing islet damage. This study has potential to discover new therapeutic agents in regeneration as well as generate knowledge that may assist with increasing tolerance to islet transplants.

Associate Professor Shane Grey is Lab Head of Transplantation Immunology at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

 

Read the official media release from Ministers Birmingham and Hunt

Read the ANU media release

Read the St Vincent’s Institute media release 

Read the Garvan Institute media release

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