Beta cell therapies have the potential to bring us into a new era in type 1 diabetes treatment, moving us beyond insulin. To get us there faster, the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge – a ground-breaking £50million partnership between Diabetes UK, JDRF and the Steve Morgan Foundation – is calling on researchers across all disciplines to join forces to innovate high-risk, high-reward solutions with the potential to fast-track progress towards a cell-based cure for type 1 diabetes.
The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge are looking for innovative, collaborative proposals that will accelerate research into treatments to restore insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. They are offering up to £400,000 per award to the most promising, out of the box research projects led by teams of exceptional multidisciplinary scientists.
The Grand Challenge recognises the importance of drawing on expertise from other fields and disciplines to help unlock innovations and navigate obstacles that are blocking the path to reaching new beta cell treatments. That’s why they’re encouraging blue sky thinking and multi-disciplinary collaboration, calling on scientists who might never have worked on type 1 diabetes before, including immunologists, to get involved.
Treatments that bring back beta cells would be transformative, bringing us closer to the day when living with type 1 diabetes no longer requires relentless, round-the-clock self-management.
Generating an unlimited source of beta cells
An islet transplant is a treatment that sees healthy donor beta cells transplanted into a person with type 1 diabetes. This can mean the person with type 1 can temporarily stop insulin therapy or reduce doses, as the donor cells produce insulin. However, there aren’t enough donor beta cells available for everyone who could benefit, and transplanted cells struggle to survive long-term.
To solve these issues, scientists have turned to stem cells to make bespoke beta-like cells in the lab ready for transplant. But there’s still much work to do to produce mature, fully functioning beta cells and move replacement therapies towards the clinic.
Regrowing people’s own beta cells
Another avenue to restore endogenous insulin production is beta cell regeneration. Most people with type 1 diabetes, even those who have lived with the condition for decades, have a small cohort of residual surviving beta cells. These cells make an ideal target to trigger regeneration and expand the beta cell population, so the pancreas can take up the reigns of blood glucose management again. While other pancreatic cells, including alpha cells, could be targeted and encouraged to shapeshift into beta cells.
Apply for funding
The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge Beta Cell Therapies Innovation Project call is open to UK-based researchers from all disciplines who are:
- Senior post-doctoral researchers on their path to independence
- Clinical and non-clinical group leaders who are continuing to build their research groups
- Established clinical and non-clinical group leaders
Researchers will be asked to submit a brief research plan, including a short video pitch, by 19 February 2024. The very best applicants will then be invited to a virtual interview.
More information about the call and how to apply can be found here.
You can also sign up to the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge's webinar on 14 December to learn more about the call and get tips for applying.
Diabetes UK is the largest charitable investor in diabetes research in the UK and has been funding excellence in this area of research for over 85 years. 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. For all queries, please email: SMFGrandChallenge@diabetes.org.uk.