Two promising Australian research projects have been awarded almost $3 million in funding from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, to be administered by JDRF Australia.

The Helmsley Charitable Trust is one of the largest medical research-funding philanthropic trusts in the world. Helmsley has provided more than US$1.5 billion of grants since 2008, and over 70 percent of grants relate to health and medical research. Helmsley operates a substantial type 1 diabetes (T1D) program. JDRF is proud to administer these studies, which benefit from the network and governance of the Australian Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Research Network (T1DCRN), itself an itself an innovative clinical research program led by JDRF Australia and funded by a Special Research Initiative through the Australian Research Council (ARC). By successfully leveraging global networks and partnerships like this, JDRF can secure money for promising Australian research that ultimately benefits Australians living with T1D.

There is currently no way to prevent T1D from happening. These two projects, along with the large body of ongoing prevention research, aim to change that by uniquely investigating ways to predict T1D early, and slow progression of the disease. If we could find ways to aid prevention of type 1 diabetes, this will bring us closer to our vision of a world without type 1 diabetes and mean future generations do not have to experience its daily burdens.

The two recipients of The Helmsley Charitable Trust funding are: Associate Professor Anandwardhan Hardikar from the University of Sydney’s NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, and Professor Ranjeny Thomas from the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute.

Left to right: Professor Ranjeny Thomas & Associate Professor Anandwardhan Hardikar

In Sydney, Associate Professor Anandwardhan Hardikar and him team aim to develop a simple detection kit that could identify beta cell loss early. Currently, by the time T1D is diagnosed, up to 70% of beta cells have already been silently destroyed by the immune system. The detection kit would use a microchip to detect biomarkers in the blood associated with beta cell loss.  By bringing together experts in nanoscience, engineering, molecular biology and medicine, the ultimate aim is to be able to slow or prevent T1D onset, giving families more time free from insulin, reducing the risk of complications and hopefully, the opportunity to prevent it from happening in the first place.  If successful, this test to measure beta cell loss could significantly accelerate development of therapies to prevent or delay T1D.

JDRF’s T1DCRN has been supporting A/Prof Hardikar since the Network began, initially with a small grant, and now with a prestigious Career Development Award (CDA). This current project builds on the work from his CDA. A/Prof Hardikar is also a current participant in the JDRF/Macquarie Group Foundation Future Research Leaders Program. Through this Program he will build on the leadership and business skills needed to translate this research from bench to bedside to benefit people living with and at risk of T1D.

Meanwhile in Queensland, UQ Professor Ranjeny Thomas is looking at how an immunotherapy within a nanoparticle, may actually stop the immune system targeting beta cells in the pancreas in the first place. The therapy aims to rebalance the immune system of children with T1D, correcting the immune damage and therefore protecting the beta cells. This novel approach has showed promise in pre-clinical models , and this study will build on this, aiming to test the therapy further and then conduct a small clinical trial in adults who have been newly diagnosed with T1D. The team hopes to see that this therapy will delay the progression of T1D by preserving the function of beta cells. This could mean reduced treatment burden for longer as well as better long-term health outcomes.

If successful, this strategy could also be applied to people at increased risk of developing T1D, as well as those recently diagnosed with T1D, preventing or delaying beta-cell loss. Professor Ranjeny Thomas is a long-term collaborator with JDRF, and has made significant contributions to the area of prevention of T1D. She is a Rheumatologist that aims to bring her expertise in rheumatoid arthritis, also an autoimmune disease, to benefit people with T1D. She brings unique expertise to the T1DCRN, along with her team.

These studies represent a long-lasting partnership with The Helmsley Charitable Trust, beginning in April 2015, when JDRF Australia announced an $8 million partnership to invest through the T1DCRN in Australia’s globally unique study into the environmental causes of type 1 diabetes, the ENDIA study.


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