News

Research into replacing insulin-producing cells is advancing rapidly, with ‘arm pancreas’ trial announced

March 21, 2024
Beta cells under a microscope

Using a technique co-invented by Professor Matthias Hebrok, one of the Grand Challenge Scientific Advisory Panel Vice Chairs, researchers are exploring a promising treatment for type 1 diabetes in a new clinical trial, involving transplanting insulin-producing beta cells into the forearm, creating an ‘arm pancreas’.

Revolutionising research into beta cell replacement

Globally, research focused on replacing insulin-producing beta cells, which are destroyed in type 1 diabetes, is advancing rapidly. The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is investing £30 million into the most cutting-edge projects in this field. The diabetes research community is optimistic about its potential to end the constant insulin dosing and blood sugar monitoring that people living with type 1 diabetes currently have to endure.

The two-part clinical trial involves transplanting clusters of islets, that contain insulin-producing beta cells, into the forearms of eight participants, creating an ‘arm pancreas’. In the first phase, cells from donors have been successfully transplanted, while the second phase aims to use cells grown in the lab from stem cells, in much larger quantities.

US biotech company Minutia is developing the technology, supported by three non-dilutive funders, California’s Stem Cell Agency, JDRF International, and the National Institute of Health, and is working collaboratively with the University of California, San Francisco, and Duke University. Co-founder of Minutia Professor Hebrok, at the Technical University of Munich and Helmholtz Munich, said that while islet transplants from donors have already seen success, there’s a critical shortage of donors, meaning that only a tiny fraction of people with type 1 diabetes can currently benefit from a transplant.

Professor Hebrok said:

“I think the stem cell-derived cells are a revolution. Of course, we’re at the very early stages. But we could generate as many cells as we would like, to treat a tremendous number of patients.”

A growing community

Professor Hebrok is Vice Chair of the Grand Challenge Scientific Advisory Panel advising on the research stream focused on beta cell replacement therapies. With funding from the Grand Challenge, there are now more than 70 researchers and collaborators working to grow, replace, and protect beta cells, so that people with type 1 diabetes can make their own insulin again. It’s encouraging to see the beta cell research community grow, with more researchers exploring creative new approaches that are moving us closer to a cure for type 1 diabetes.

Dr Lucy Chambers, Head of Research Communications at Diabetes UK, said:

“Cutting-edge cell therapies that enable people with type 1 diabetes to make their own insulin again are within reach.

“While there’s still much work to do to get these into clinical practice, programmes such as the UK’s Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, are bringing us closer to the day when living with type 1 diabetes no longer requires relentless, round-the-clock self-management, and short- and long-term complications are a thing of the past.”

You may also be interested in

Replacing beta cells
Beta cells illustration
Replacing beta cells

Read more about the research stream focused on replacing beta cells.

Funded projects
Prof David Hodson and student Silvia Gimeno in lab
Funded projects

Find out more about all the projects funded by the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge.

News and views
Type 1 diabetes researcher in lab with back to camera looking at microscopic cells via a screen
News and views

Read the latest news and views from the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge and beyond.

News

Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge round-up 2023

December 14, 2023
A photo of Sally and Steve Morgan at the 2023 DUKPC.

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is providing a vital boost for UK diabetes research to find new treatments and cures for type 1 diabetes, faster. We are rallying the brightest minds around the UK and beyond to find ways to transform quality-of-life for the millions of people worldwide who live with type 1.

During 2023, the values at the heart of the Grand Challenge, speed, innovation, collaboration and ambition, have been clear. We made our first funding awards to nine diabetes research teams with big ideas, investing over £18 million to accelerate progress. While we’ve also been building vital capability within the diabetes research landscape, and nurturing creativity and collaboration in our three research priorities.

Here, we highlight what we’ve made happen in 2023.

Readying the starting blocks

To ensure we fuel research with the greatest possible potential to change the lives of people with type 1 diabetes, we enlisted the help of the world’s leading type 1 diabetes research experts. They sit on our Scientific Advisory Panels and work tirelessly to make sure our funding calls attract the best researchers with the most promising ideas.

This year, we’ve launched five new calls – asking scientists to develop ambitious and innovative research proposals and apply for our funding in each of the three Grand Challenge areas.

In February, we launched the first of our funding calls to accelerate research into the root causes of type 1 and ways to replace insulin-making beta cells, so that new treatments can make a difference to people with type 1 diabetes sooner. Next, we announced our plans to establish a flag-ship beta cell production and distribution centre, to ensure a supply of stem cell-derived beta cells for researchers in the UK.

With ambition, innovation and collaboration at the heart of the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, later in the year we called on scientists to push boundaries even further.  Our Novel Insulins funding call is currently open and calling for bold ideas and innovations in insulin-based medicines from both academics and small-medium sized businesses, working across a range of disciplines from biotechnology to pharmacology. While our Beta Cell Therapy Innovations call is open for applications too. It’s seeking high-risk, high-reward ideas and new perspectives to support visionary ideas that could transform the field if successful.

Building momentum and collaboration

To prepare the research community for the Grand Challenge’s new and exciting way of funding research, we hosted first-of-a-kind networking events.

In May we held a virtual symposium on novel insulins research. The symposium provided a platform for researchers, policy makers and industry experts from around the world to share insights and expertise on the latest breakthroughs in novel insulin therapies.

Then in November, we held a networking workshop with scientists with diverse expertise, designed to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and fresh ideas, with the potential to overcome the roadblocks holding back progress in beta cell therapy research.

£18 million awarded so far

The response from the scientific community this year has been staggering, giving our expert advisory panels of scientists and people with lived experience of type 1 plenty of pioneering proposals to rigorously scrutinise and review.

In March, we announced the first projects awarded by the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge. £5 million went to three exceptional researchers, who become our first Senior Research Fellows. Dr James Cantley at the University of Dundee, will test new drugs to help people grow back their own beta cells. Dr Victoria Salem at Imperial College London,will develop a device that can be implanted into people with type 1 diabetes to deliver new beta cells. Professor Sarah Richardson at the University of Exeter, will explore how and why a person’s immune system destroys their own beta cells.

Then in December, we announced Grand Challenge funding of over £13 million for a further six research projects. Two of these projects will investigate how to tackle the immune system attack at the root of type 1 diabetes using promising new treatments, called immunotherapies, which could prevent or slow the condition. The remaining four projects will tackle the challenge of replacing insulin-producing beta cells. Three research teams will aim to improve the quality, functionality and survival of the beta cells we can develop in the lab, while the final team aim to make islet transplants from donors more effective.

Looking ahead to 2024

With the outstanding new research teams our funding has forged, in hand with wider collaborative community our panels, events and patient and public engagement work have built, the pace is set. In 2024, we’ll be announcing the first funding awards in the Novel Insulins research theme, along with the outcome of our call for innovative beta cell therapy ideas. We’ll also be reporting on progress from the groundbreaking research projects already underway. And we look forward to an exciting programme of activity that will continue to stimulate bold, innovative research at scale and create the change needed to improve the lives of millions of people with type 1 diabetes.

Keep your eye on the News and Views section of our website for live updates on the Grand Challenge.

You may also be interested in

Six new research projects
Prof David Hodson and student Silvia Gimeno in lab
Six new research projects

Learn about the six new research projects awarded a total of £13 million.

Senior Research Fellowships
Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge Research Fellows stood in group holding their awards
Senior Research Fellowships

Meet our three Senior Research Fellows.

Our funded projects
Professor Sarah Richardson sat at her lab computer
Our funded projects

Find out about the nine exciting research projects we are funding.

News

Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge invests £13 million into six transformational new projects

December 7, 2023
Prof David Hodson and student Silvia Gimeno in lab

We’re thrilled to unveil the latest groundbreaking research projects funded by the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge. Earlier this year, we called on scientists to submit research proposals to get us closer to having new treatments for people with type 1 diabetes that tackle the root cause of their condition and restore their insulin-making beta cells.

Now, over £13 million of funding will support six outstanding research teams – made up of 49 scientists, working at 22 different institutions in the UK and Europe – to fast-track discoveries that could see us make huge strides in how we treat type 1 diabetes.

Helping people make their own insulin

To cure type 1 diabetes, we need to find a way to give people with type 1 diabetes new beta cells that work to precisely control their blood sugar levels. Four of our new projects will innovate new ways of reaching this goal.

Beta cells: replace, protect, regenerate

Professor David Hodson, at University of Oxford, Dr Ildem Akerman, at University of Birmingham, and Dr Johannes Broichhagen, at Leibniz FMP, will lead a team to explore how insulin-boosting molecules that sit on the surface of beta cells could be harnessed to create beta cells in the lab that work better and survive for longer.

They’ll also investigate if the molecules can be used to deliver treatments that help to protect transplanted beta cells from the immune system or trigger new beta cells to grow inside the body, by encouraging other cells in the pancreas to transform into beta cells.

Find out more about the team’s project.

Bolstering beta cells ready for transplantation

Professor Shanta Persaud and Dr Aileen King, at King’s College London, and team will work to create an unlimited supply of elite beta cells ready for transplant. They’ll draw on their expert knowledge in how the human pancreas works and develops, and apply this to making beta cells from stem cells in the lab. As they grow their beta cells, they’ll bolster them with specialised support cells and helpful nutrients that will encourage them to fully develop so they can respond to changing blood sugar levels just as well as real beta cells do.

Find out more about the team’s project.

Creating a better home for transplanted beta cells

Professor Francesca Spagnoli and Dr Rocio Sancho at King’s College London, together with Professor Molly Stevens at University of Oxford, will focus on ways to keep lab-made beta cells safe from harm. They’ll use cutting-edge technology to boost beta cells’ chances of survival once transplanted by coating them with protective gels and using nanoparticle technology to create a synthetic microenvironment to protect them from stress and immune attack.

The team will also develop a transplantation device that beta cells can live inside, to protect them from the hostile environment they’ll face once transplanted inside the body.

Find out more about the team’s project.

Unleashing the benefits of cell transplants

Professor Shareen Forbes, at University of Edinburgh, and Dr Lisa White, at University of Nottingham, will spearhead a team to search for ways to boost the benefits of donor beta cells transplants (called islet transplants). They’ll investigate if delivering drugs packaged inside microcapsules alongside islet transplants helps the donated beta cells produce more insulin and survive for longer. This would make islets transplants more effective and mean many more people with type 1 diabetes could benefit.

Finally, the team will investigate if this approach could be applied to beta cells made from stem cells.

Find out more about the team’s project.

Stopping the immune attack’s harm

In people living with type 1 diabetes, the immune system remains primed to seek out and destroy beta cells. To ensure the survival of any new beta cells transplanted into people with type 1, protection from the immune system is critical. Two projects from our latest multi-million-pound investment are focused on promising new immunotherapy treatments, which fend off the immune attack in type 1 diabetes.

Immunotherapy: is timing everything?

Dr James Pearson, at Cardiff University, and his team will investigate if the time of day when we give an immunotherapy can affect how well it works. They’ll study a type of immunotherapy drug named interleukin-2 (IL-2). It works by expanding the population of helpful immune cells, called regulatory T cells (Tregs), which try to prevent killer immune cells from launching their attack. Dr Pearson has found evidence that Tregs respond differently to IL-2 depending on the time of day and will now explore this further.

The findings could help to improve the effectiveness of a promising immunotherapy for people with and at risk of type 1 diabetes by identifying the best time of day to give the treatment.

Find out more about the team’s project.

Are two immunotherapies better than one?

Dr Danijela Tatovic, at Cardiff University, will head a team to explore if combining two immunotherapies that target different parts of the immune system could make them more effective at protecting beta cells.

They’ll run a clinical trial testing the immunotherapies abatacept and IL-2 with people recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, who still have some surviving beta cells. Their findings will tell us how best to combine the drugs and will lay the groundwork for a bigger trial, which could build the evidence needed to make this combination treatment available for people with or at risk of type 1 diabetes.

Find out more about the team’s project.

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said:

“We’re in a hugely exciting period for the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, as today we welcome six exceptional scientists who will lead exciting multi-disciplinary teams to drive forward this pioneering initiative and build momentum towards our ambitious goal.

“This announcement brings with it fresh hope of a cure for everyone living with type 1 diabetes, and we look forward to seeing how these projects will break new ground in our search for life-changing beta cell therapies and treatments to overcome the type 1 immune system attack.”

Rachel Connor, Director of Research Partnerships at JDRF UK, said:

“Today’s announcement of six newly funded research projects demonstrates the speed and ambition of the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge. All six projects hold great promise for people with type 1 diabetes. We can’t wait to see the results of this vital research to transform beta cell therapy and tackle the immune reaction that is at the root of driving type 1.”

Steve and Sally Morgan, Founders of the Steve Morgan Foundation, said:

“This is an exciting moment in our partnership with Diabetes UK and JDRF UK. We are astounded by the innovation and vision of the new projects and look forward to seeing how the research helps us realise our ambition of transforming the lives of people with type 1 diabetes.”

Our latest awards take the total amount of funding the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge has awarded in 2023 to over £18 million, following the Steve Morgan Foundation’s momentous £50 million pledge. We’ll keep you updated on the progress of this extraordinary research as our growing squad of scientists help us step closer to a cure.

You may also be interested in

Our funded projects
Professor Sarah Richardson sat at her lab computer
Our funded projects

Find out more about the other projects we’re funding to propel us towards better treatments and cures for type 1 diabetes.

Replacing beta cells
Beta cells illustration
Replacing beta cells

We need new and improved treatments to replace or grow back beta cells that have been destroyed, so people with type 1 diabetes can make enough of their own insulin again.

Root causes of type 1 diabetes
Roots causes of type 1 diabetes illustration
Root causes of type 1 diabetes

We need new treatments to deal with type 1’s root cause – the immune system’s attack on beta cells.

News

£1 million available to ignite beta cell therapy innovations

December 5, 2023
Two scientists are pipetting in the lab

Today sees the opening of a new Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge funding call focused on supporting innovations into beta cell therapies for people with type 1 diabetes. 

Following our networking workshop last week, designed to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and fresh thinking into beta cell therapy research, we’re offering individual awards of up to £400,000. We want to support visionary research that will transform the field, by embracing high-risk, high-reward proposals. New and creative ideas that will address an unmet need in beta cell therapy research are strongly encouraged. 

We also know that drawing on expertise from beyond type 1 diabetes could unlock innovations to overcome current obstacles. That’s why we’re encouraging multi-disciplinary collaboration and are calling on researchers from any discipline, including immunology, stem cell science, medicinal chemistry or bioengineering, to get involved. 

Diabetes UK and JDRF have worked with the Grand Challenge Scientific Advisory Panels, comprising some of the world’s most eminent type 1 diabetes scientists, to shape this new call. 

Apply for funding

Find out more and apply for the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant. 

Researchers will be asked to submit a brief research plan, including a short video pitch, by February 19th 2024. The very best applicants will then be invited to a virtual interview.   

Diabetes UK and JDRF are passionate about working closely with people affected by type 1 diabetes and encourage all applicants to do the same when building their applications. 

If you’re a researcher and want to learn more about the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant call, including top tips for applying, sign up to our webinar on December 14th. 

Professor Qizhi Tang, a member of our Scientific Advisory Panel on beta cell therapies, said: 

“Recent advances in stem cell technology and cell engineering have provided an unprecedented opportunity to restore beta cell function in people with type 1 diabetes. The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is a momentous call to action to work together to advance this therapy.”

You may also be interested in

Beta cell innovation networking workshop
Beta cell innovation networking workshop

We brought researchers together to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and innovative ideas with the potential to disrupt the roadblocks holding back progress in beta cell therapy research.

Attend our Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Call webinar
Attend our Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Call webinar

Find out more about the call, tips for applying, and get opportunity to ask the Grand Challenge funding team your questions on 14 December.

Apply for funding
Apply for funding

If you’re a researcher, read more about our innovation call and apply for funding now to help advance the development of beta cell therapies.

News

£1 million available to ignite beta cell therapy innovations

November 28, 2023
Two scientists are pipetting in the lab

Today sees the opening of a new Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge funding call focused on supporting innovations into beta cell therapies for people with type 1 diabetes. 

Following our networking workshop last week, designed to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and fresh thinking into beta cell therapy research, we’re offering individual awards of up to £400,000. We want to support visionary research that will transform the field, by embracing high-risk, high-reward proposals. New and creative ideas that will address an unmet need in beta cell therapy research are strongly encouraged. 

We also know that drawing on expertise from beyond type 1 diabetes could unlock innovations to overcome current obstacles. That’s why we’re encouraging multi-disciplinary collaboration and are calling on researchers from any discipline, including immunology, stem cell science, medicinal chemistry or bioengineering, to get involved. 

Diabetes UK and JDRF have worked with the Grand Challenge Scientific Advisory Panels, comprising some of the world’s most eminent type 1 diabetes scientists, to shape this new call. 

Apply for funding

Find out more and apply for the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant. 

Researchers will be asked to submit a brief research plan, including a short video pitch, by February 19th 2024. The very best applicants will then be invited to a virtual interview.   

Diabetes UK and JDRF are passionate about working closely with people affected by type 1 diabetes and encourage all applicants to do the same when building their applications. 

If you’re a researcher and want to learn more about the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant call, including top tips for applying, sign up to our webinar on December 14th. 

Professor Qizhi Tang, a member of our Scientific Advisory Panel on beta cell therapies, said: 

“Recent advances in stem cell technology and cell engineering have provided an unprecedented opportunity to restore beta cell function in people with type 1 diabetes. The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is a momentous call to action to work together to advance this therapy.”

You may also be interested in

Beta cell innovation networking workshop
Beta cell innovation networking workshop

We brought researchers together to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and innovative ideas with the potential to disrupt the roadblocks holding back progress in beta cell therapy research.

Attend our Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Call webinar
Attend our Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Call webinar

Find out more about the call, tips for applying, and get opportunity to ask the Grand Challenge funding team your questions on 14 December.

Apply for funding
Apply for funding

If you’re a researcher, read more about our innovation call and apply for funding now to help advance the development of beta cell therapies.

News

£1 million available to ignite beta cell therapy innovations

September 5, 2023
Two scientists are pipetting in the lab

Today sees the opening of a new Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge funding call focused on supporting innovations into beta cell therapies for people with type 1 diabetes. 

Following our networking workshop last week, designed to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and fresh thinking into beta cell therapy research, we’re offering individual awards of up to £400,000. We want to support visionary research that will transform the field, by embracing high-risk, high-reward proposals. New and creative ideas that will address an unmet need in beta cell therapy research are strongly encouraged. 

We also know that drawing on expertise from beyond type 1 diabetes could unlock innovations to overcome current obstacles. That’s why we’re encouraging multi-disciplinary collaboration and are calling on researchers from any discipline, including immunology, stem cell science, medicinal chemistry or bioengineering, to get involved. 

Diabetes UK and JDRF have worked with the Grand Challenge Scientific Advisory Panels, comprising some of the world’s most eminent type 1 diabetes scientists, to shape this new call. 

Apply for funding

Find out more and apply for the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant. 

Researchers will be asked to submit a brief research plan, including a short video pitch, by February 19th 2024. The very best applicants will then be invited to a virtual interview.   

Diabetes UK and JDRF are passionate about working closely with people affected by type 1 diabetes and encourage all applicants to do the same when building their applications. 

If you’re a researcher and want to learn more about the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant call, including top tips for applying, sign up to our webinar on December 14th. 

Professor Qizhi Tang, a member of our Scientific Advisory Panel on beta cell therapies, said: 

“Recent advances in stem cell technology and cell engineering have provided an unprecedented opportunity to restore beta cell function in people with type 1 diabetes. The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is a momentous call to action to work together to advance this therapy.”

News

£1 million available to ignite beta cell therapy innovations

June 22, 2023
Two scientists are pipetting in the lab

Last month, we held a symposium on novel insulins, where experts from around the world met virtually to discuss their ideas for how to develop the next generation of insulins. Their fascinating discussion will be published in a scientific review paper later this year. In the meantime, here is a preview of five of the most exciting ideas that were discussed at the symposium.

Today sees the opening of a new Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge funding call focused on supporting innovations into beta cell therapies for people with type 1 diabetes. 

Following our networking workshop last week, designed to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and fresh thinking into beta cell therapy research, we’re offering individual awards of up to £400,000. We want to support visionary research that will transform the field, by embracing high-risk, high-reward proposals. New and creative ideas that will address an unmet need in beta cell therapy research are strongly encouraged. 

We also know that drawing on expertise from beyond type 1 diabetes could unlock innovations to overcome current obstacles. That’s why we’re encouraging multi-disciplinary collaboration and are calling on researchers from any discipline, including immunology, stem cell science, medicinal chemistry or bioengineering, to get involved. 

Diabetes UK and JDRF have worked with the Grand Challenge Scientific Advisory Panels, comprising some of the world’s most eminent type 1 diabetes scientists, to shape this new call. 

Apply for funding

Find out more and apply for the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant. 

Researchers will be asked to submit a brief research plan, including a short video pitch, by February 19th 2024. The very best applicants will then be invited to a virtual interview.   

Diabetes UK and JDRF are passionate about working closely with people affected by type 1 diabetes and encourage all applicants to do the same when building their applications. 

If you’re a researcher and want to learn more about the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant call, including top tips for applying, sign up to our webinar on December 14th. 

Professor Qizhi Tang, a member of our Scientific Advisory Panel on beta cell therapies, said: 

“Recent advances in stem cell technology and cell engineering have provided an unprecedented opportunity to restore beta cell function in people with type 1 diabetes. The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is a momentous call to action to work together to advance this therapy.”

A cone snail attacking a fish

A cone snail attacking a fish

Because insulin is such a big molecule, it can take a while to act. Scientists have been trying to make insulin smaller without losing any of its function, but they haven’t been successful yet. Now, researchers including Professor Daniel Chou from Stanford University are trying to mimic the chemical structure of cone snail insulin venom and tweak it slightly to improve its effectiveness in people.

If these researchers manage to create this smaller version of insulin, our skin should be able to absorb it much faster than current insulins. Ultra-fast insulins like this would reduce the time you need to wait between injecting and eating and also offer hope for fully closed loop systems, which don’t require a person to give warning of meals and exercise.

2. Oral insulin pill inspired by tortoises

The problem with taking insulin orally in a pill also partially comes down to its size. If you were to swallow a pill of insulin, it would first break down in your stomach, meaning it couldn’t work properly, and even then, it would still be too big to pass through your intestines. But world-renowned scientist Professor Robert Langer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed an ingenious pill that protects insulin and then fires it into the stomach lining.

A diagram of Professor Langer’s insulin pill design

A diagram of Professor Langer’s insulin pill design

The clever design features a tiny spring which propels an arrow of insulin directly into the stomach lining. This happens about an hour after you swallow the device, which is packed inside a biodegradable case, to allow time for it to reach the stomach. But how do you make sure the insulin is always fired into the stomach wall? That’s where the tortoises come in.

A species called the leopard tortoise is self-orienting, which means that it always stays upright. No matter how the tortoise falls or rolls, it will always end up on its feet. This clever trick is due to how its weight is distributed. Inspired by these tortoises, Professor Langer distributed the weight in his insulin pill in the same way so that it always lands with the insulin pointed down.

His pill is called SOMA (self-oriented medical applicator) and Novo Nordisk has so far tested it in 65 people with type 1 diabetes and found no bad side effects.

A leopard tortoise

A leopard tortoise

3. A weekly insulin could be coming

People with type 1 currently take a type of slow-acting insulin, known as basal insulin, once or twice a day to control blood sugar outside of eating. Researchers are developing a new generation of insulins that can work for even longer, reducing the number of injections you need. It may seem counterintuitive, but by editing insulin to make it less effective at clearing glucose, researchers can make it work for longer. This reduced function means it can stay in the body without causing hypoglycaemia.

Novo Nordisk have used this principle to create an insulin called insulin isodec, which has had very promising results in clinical trials. The company has now applied to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for regulatory approval, meaning weekly basal insulin injections could soon become a reality for people with diabetes.

4. Ways to make insulin respond to glucose

Scientists specialising in different disciplines from chemistry to bioengineering have inventive ideas about how to create glucose-responsive insulins, also known as smart insulins. An interesting idea is to create a mixture of insulin and a chemical that can sense glucose, with a large molecule to keep them together.

A team led by Professor Matthew Webber at the University of Notre Dame has developed such a mixture. The insulin mixture is an insoluble blob at a neutral pH, which means not acidic or alkaline. Then, when glucose levels rise, the pH becomes more acidic and the mixture dissolves, releasing the insulin so that it can bind to glucose. Their tests on animals have shown that a single dose of their smart insulin mixture can keep glucose levels stable for up to five days in mice and up to a week in pigs.

The glucose-responsive insulin mixture in its soluble state and its insoluble state

The glucose-responsive insulin mixture in its soluble state and its insoluble state

5. Computer models to streamline research

Treatments must be tested in animals before they can enter clinical trials with people. But lots of drugs that are effective in animals turn out not to work in humans. Professor Michael Strano and his team at MIT have developed a sophisticated computer model of the glucose control system in animals and humans, which can predict how the body will respond to different treatments. The team created the simulation using a combination of maths, biochemistry and extensive data collection from people with type 1.

Researchers can plug their drug designs into the computer model to predict whether it will work or not and edit their designs accordingly. This tool is especially useful for glucose-responsive ‘smart’ insulins because scientists all over the world are experimenting with a range of different approaches to develop them. The simulator will streamline the research process by allowing researchers to only invest time and energy in their ideas that have the best chance of success. It will save crucial time, money and effort in the research and development stage and ensure only the insulins (and other therapies for type 1) with the most potential progress to clinical trials.

Bonus: glucose-responsive glucagon

We can apply all of these ideas for creating glucose-responsive insulin to the hormone glucagon, which has the opposite effect to insulin. Glucagon stimulates glucose production and release from where it is stored in the liver, which is why it is a treatment for severe hypoglycaemia.

A glucagon emergency rescue kit to treat severe hypos

A glucagon emergency rescue kit to treat severe hypos

Dr Alborz Madavi, a researcher who founded the company Protomer, believes that a long-acting dose of glucose-responsive glucagon, which could be taken just once a week, would protect against hypoglycaemia. The smart glucagon would turn on at low glucose levels to prevent hypos and work alongside the user’s normal insulin treatment. Dr Mahdavi believes this would help people with type 1 feel less worried about overnight hypos and allow more flexibility with taking insulin.

Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge offers hope for novel insulins

The £15 million set aside by the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge to tackle the challenge of novel insulins will expand upon this exciting research to bring these innovative ideas closer to reality. From hormones that can respond to varying glucose levels, to fast- and long-acting insulin, to easier ways to take insulin without injections, novel insulins are coming, and the Grand Challenge will get us there faster.

Novel Insulin Grand Challenge
Novel Insulin Grand Challenge

While we push towards a cure, we need next generation insulins such as those that can respond to changing blood sugar levels and eliminate highs and lows. Find our more about our Novel Insulin Grand Challenge.

Novel insulins symposium
Novel insulins symposium

Leading experts and researchers from around the world came together to share their progress, challenges and hopes for developing new forms of insulin.

About us
About us

By harnessing the power of collaboration, targeting research areas with the greatest potential, and stimulating bold, innovative research at scale, we’re creating change that will improve the lives of millions of people with type 1 diabetes.

News, Video

£1 million available to ignite beta cell therapy innovations

May 19, 2023
Two scientists are pipetting in the lab

Today sees the opening of a new Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge funding call focused on supporting innovations into beta cell therapies for people with type 1 diabetes. 

Following our networking workshop last week, designed to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and fresh thinking into beta cell therapy research, we’re offering individual awards of up to £400,000. We want to support visionary research that will transform the field, by embracing high-risk, high-reward proposals. New and creative ideas that will address an unmet need in beta cell therapy research are strongly encouraged. 

We also know that drawing on expertise from beyond type 1 diabetes could unlock innovations to overcome current obstacles. That’s why we’re encouraging multi-disciplinary collaboration and are calling on researchers from any discipline, including immunology, stem cell science, medicinal chemistry or bioengineering, to get involved. 

Diabetes UK and JDRF have worked with the Grand Challenge Scientific Advisory Panels, comprising some of the world’s most eminent type 1 diabetes scientists, to shape this new call. 

Apply for funding

Find out more and apply for the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant. 

Researchers will be asked to submit a brief research plan, including a short video pitch, by February 19th 2024. The very best applicants will then be invited to a virtual interview.   

Diabetes UK and JDRF are passionate about working closely with people affected by type 1 diabetes and encourage all applicants to do the same when building their applications. 

If you’re a researcher and want to learn more about the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant call, including top tips for applying, sign up to our webinar on December 14th. 

Professor Qizhi Tang, a member of our Scientific Advisory Panel on beta cell therapies, said: 

“Recent advances in stem cell technology and cell engineering have provided an unprecedented opportunity to restore beta cell function in people with type 1 diabetes. The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is a momentous call to action to work together to advance this therapy.”

______Content of this video______

00:00:00 Introduction to the Novel Insulins Symposium – Professor Simon Heller
00:06:04 Discovery and design of novel insulins – Dr Peter Kurtzhals
00:38:41 Glucose-responsive smart insulin and delivery patch – Professor Zhen Gu
01:09:05 Molecular Engineering of Insulin: Progresses and Challenges – Professor Daniel Chou
01:35:33 Molecular engineering of glucose-responsive insulin – Professor Matthew Webber
02:07:00 Towards oral insulin and an artificial pancreas – Professor Robert Langer
02:26:03 Ultra-stable insulin analogs and their clinical applications – Professor Michael Weiss
02:55:22 Glucose-sensing insulins – Dr Alborz Mahdavi
03:31:42 Diabetes therapeutics from computational design – Professor Michael Strano
03:59:00 Discussion Panel – All speakers
04:36:42 Concluding remarks and next steps – Ms Rachel Connor

News

£1 million available to ignite beta cell therapy innovations

May 17, 2023
Two scientists are pipetting in the lab

Today sees the opening of a new Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge funding call focused on supporting innovations into beta cell therapies for people with type 1 diabetes. 

Following our networking workshop last week, designed to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and fresh thinking into beta cell therapy research, we’re offering individual awards of up to £400,000. We want to support visionary research that will transform the field, by embracing high-risk, high-reward proposals. New and creative ideas that will address an unmet need in beta cell therapy research are strongly encouraged. 

We also know that drawing on expertise from beyond type 1 diabetes could unlock innovations to overcome current obstacles. That’s why we’re encouraging multi-disciplinary collaboration and are calling on researchers from any discipline, including immunology, stem cell science, medicinal chemistry or bioengineering, to get involved. 

Diabetes UK and JDRF have worked with the Grand Challenge Scientific Advisory Panels, comprising some of the world’s most eminent type 1 diabetes scientists, to shape this new call. 

Apply for funding

Find out more and apply for the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant. 

Researchers will be asked to submit a brief research plan, including a short video pitch, by February 19th 2024. The very best applicants will then be invited to a virtual interview.   

Diabetes UK and JDRF are passionate about working closely with people affected by type 1 diabetes and encourage all applicants to do the same when building their applications. 

If you’re a researcher and want to learn more about the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant call, including top tips for applying, sign up to our webinar on December 14th. 

Professor Qizhi Tang, a member of our Scientific Advisory Panel on beta cell therapies, said: 

“Recent advances in stem cell technology and cell engineering have provided an unprecedented opportunity to restore beta cell function in people with type 1 diabetes. The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is a momentous call to action to work together to advance this therapy.”

News

£1 million available to ignite beta cell therapy innovations

April 27, 2023
Two scientists are pipetting in the lab

Today sees the opening of a new Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge funding call focused on supporting innovations into beta cell therapies for people with type 1 diabetes. 

Following our networking workshop last week, designed to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and fresh thinking into beta cell therapy research, we’re offering individual awards of up to £400,000. We want to support visionary research that will transform the field, by embracing high-risk, high-reward proposals. New and creative ideas that will address an unmet need in beta cell therapy research are strongly encouraged. 

We also know that drawing on expertise from beyond type 1 diabetes could unlock innovations to overcome current obstacles. That’s why we’re encouraging multi-disciplinary collaboration and are calling on researchers from any discipline, including immunology, stem cell science, medicinal chemistry or bioengineering, to get involved. 

Diabetes UK and JDRF have worked with the Grand Challenge Scientific Advisory Panels, comprising some of the world’s most eminent type 1 diabetes scientists, to shape this new call. 

Apply for funding

Find out more and apply for the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant. 

Researchers will be asked to submit a brief research plan, including a short video pitch, by February 19th 2024. The very best applicants will then be invited to a virtual interview.   

Diabetes UK and JDRF are passionate about working closely with people affected by type 1 diabetes and encourage all applicants to do the same when building their applications. 

If you’re a researcher and want to learn more about the Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Project Grant call, including top tips for applying, sign up to our webinar on December 14th. 

Professor Qizhi Tang, a member of our Scientific Advisory Panel on beta cell therapies, said: 

“Recent advances in stem cell technology and cell engineering have provided an unprecedented opportunity to restore beta cell function in people with type 1 diabetes. The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is a momentous call to action to work together to advance this therapy.”

You may also be interested in

Beta cell innovation networking workshop
Beta cell innovation networking workshop

We brought researchers together to spark cross disciplinary collaborations and innovative ideas with the potential to disrupt the roadblocks holding back progress in beta cell therapy research.

Attend our Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Call webinar
Attend our Beta Cell Therapy Innovation Call webinar

Find out more about the call, tips for applying, and get opportunity to ask the Grand Challenge funding team your questions on 14 December.

Apply for funding
Apply for funding

If you’re a researcher, read more about our innovation call and apply for funding now to help advance the development of beta cell therapies.