Skip to main content

Immune insights for type 1 diabetes therapy – answering a Grand Challenge with immunological expertise

A unique research partnership has launched a new research call inviting immunology researchers to bring their expertise to deliver change for people with type 1 diabetes. Rachel Connor, Director of Research Partnerships at JDRF UK, tells us more. 

Announcement of funding call open with picture of female scientist in bottom right

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is a new research funding initiative, catalysed by the historic £50 million pledge from the Steve Morgan Foundation, who have partnered with JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charity, and Diabetes UK to drive change for people with type 1 diabetes. 

As part of the Grand Challenge, we have launched a new funding call targeting emerging leaders in immunology and challenging them to bring their skills in immunology to benefit people who live with type 1 diabetes.  

Why type 1 diabetes?  

Around 400,000 people in the UK live with type 1 diabetes. This autoimmune condition is caused by an immune attack on the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, leading to an inability to control blood glucose. People who live with type 1 diabetes are charged with self-managing their condition, replicating the complex process of glucose metabolism by monitoring glucose levels and administering insulin.  

The tools available to do this are far from perfect, meaning that people living with type 1 diabetes must navigate a tightrope avoiding the high glucose levels, or hyperglycaemia, that can lead to long term damage to many tissues as well as life threatening diabetic ketoacidosis, and low glucose levels, or hypoglycaemia, that is at best deeply unpleasant and at worst life-threatening. 

So, while insulin has been a lifesaving treatment for type 1 diabetes for the last 100 years, it is a far cry from a cure. The burden of managing type 1 diabetes is significant, so we need new ways to treat and ultimately cure this life-changing, life-long condition.   

Why focus on immune insights?  

We have seen some amazing advances in the field of immune therapy over the past few years, with a particular highlight arriving in November 2022, when the FDA licensed teplizumab as a therapy to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes. This was a watershed moment as teplizumab is the first licensed therapy that alters the disease course of this autoimmune condition. However, myriad challenges remain, as while current immunotherapies can delay the onset of the condition, they cannot prevent it entirely and individuals respond to these drugs in different ways. Such therapies also target only those at the start of their journey with type 1 diabetes, offering little to those who already live with the condition.  

This funding call aims to support research to further our understanding of the mechanisms of autoimmune attack in type 1 diabetes and use these insights to develop new strategies to prevent and cure type 1 diabetes.  We welcome applications from clinical and non-clinical researchers to study the immunology of type 1 diabetes in relation to both new onset and the emerging field of cell therapy for type 1 diabetes.  

Who can apply for funding? 

This funding call will provide support for UK based early- and mid-career independent researchers. We are particularly keen to support novel collaborations that bring new skills and knowledge to the field, as we know that immunology is a dynamic discipline and researchers constantly require new techniques and information to effectively adapt to this ever-changing landscape.  

The needs of people with type 1 diabetes are at the heart of this work, so we are keen to see applications that demonstrate a clear commitment to involving people with type 1 diabetes. 

More information and how to apply 

Funding is available for up to two projects with a maximum budget of £2 million per application. Please visit the Grand Challenge website to find out more about the application process and submit your letter of intent.  

The deadline for letters of intent is Tuesday 18 April 2023.  

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge also has another call open focusing on beta cell therapy, including immunological questions relating to cell replacement challenges for type 1 diabetes. The expression of interest deadline for this call is Friday 28 April 2023.  

For further information on these calls, please don't hesitate to email  

JDRF is the leading global organisation funding type 1 diabetes research. The British Society for Immunology works with JDRF UK as part of Connect Immune Research, a partnership of charities who are dedicated to tackling autoimmune conditions.