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Two promising research projects have been targeted to receive contract seed funding grants, and will benefit from $350K 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).

Professor Peter Thorn (left) and Dr Vincent Ho

These two projects will explore new directions in curing and treating T1D and its complications.

This funding will allow these researchers to prove their innovative concepts before they can move forward with further research in the area. The projects were independently reviewed by an international Panel.

The two recipients are: Dr Vincent Ho, Western Sydney University ($150K) and Professor Peter Thorn, University of Sydney ($200K).

Dr Ho, who teaches at the Blacktown/Mt Druitt Clinical School and is a specialist in gastrointestinal motility disorders, says the grant is an opportunity to take a clinical problem “from bedside to bench”.

“As a result of this grant, we are able to take a clinical issue into the laboratory in order to engineer a solution,” Dr Ho said.

“We will be investigating the use of a new endoscopic device for the treatment of diabetic gastroparesis – which is a vexing clinical problem. Treatment for sufferers of severe diabetic gastroparesis is currently very limited.

Dr Ho frequently sees patients with gastroparesis where the stomach is paralysed leading to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and early satiety.

In severe cases, symptoms can be intractable and unresponsive to medications. Gastroparesis is common in patients with type 1 diabetes (up to 40 per cent of patients) and many patients will not respond to conventional therapies and can become dependent upon feeding tubes for nutrition. In this ‘proof-of-concept’ study, the stent will be tested by expert engineers in the lab to ensure it’s compatible with the human body.

Professor Thorn, Chair of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at University of Sydney and Head of the Thorn Lab, will be undertaking early research to determine how blood vessels and arrangement of beta cells in the pancreas influence cellular structure and function.

“There appears to be a special link between insulin secreting cells and blood vessels and this grant will help us understand the mechanisms that underpin this relationship,” he said.

“The outcomes could provide new avenues to improve cell function in islet transplants and future stem cell treatments.”

The team’s previous work has shown that interactions between native beta cells and blood vessels are important for beta cell survival and insulin secretion. The eventual goal is to produce properly functioning beta cells from stem cells in environments that mimic native beta cells.

A cure for T1D has remained elusive, but if researchers can find a way to replace the lost beta cells then that will be a big step forward.

Professor Thorn is also co-organiser of a new T1D node at the University’s Charles Perkins Centre, a cross-disciplinary initiative aimed at innovating new approaches to diabetes treatment. The co-authors on the JDRF grant are all part of this node.

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