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“It’s an optimistic time for people with type 1” – Morgan Shaw, a Grand Challenge researcher who has type 1

February 1, 2024
A photo of Morgan Shaw wearing a lab coat in a lab and holding up her insulin pump.

Research Technician Morgan Shaw has type 1 diabetes and is working in Dr James Cantley’s lab at the University of Dundee, which is funded by his Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge Senior Research Fellowship. Morgan tells us how collaboration, ambition and people with type 1 are at the heart of the Grand Challenge.

My type 1 diabetes

I was diagnosed with type 1 when I was 14, just before my first GCSE exam. My Dad researches type 1 diabetes and my mum lives with type 1, so they caught my symptoms of weight loss and extreme thirst before any permanent damage was caused. I’m currently using a closed loop system to manage my type 1 and I really like it. The system reduces the burden of type 1 and the variability in my blood glucose levels. This technology means I can get on with my day and work as anyone else would except for having a can of cola on my desk. The pump has also made my condition less visible to my colleagues as I don’t have to treat my hypos as often or give myself insulin injections.

Helping others with type 1

I’ve always been interested in science. At first, I wanted to be a vet, but having my own medical conditions pushed me to human science and helping other patients. I really enjoy being a lab technician because it’s a more hands-on approach to science. I like working with my hands and having a routine in the lab. Despite not being in direct contact with patients, I still have a sense that I’m helping other people living with type 1.

Giving our research perspective

Having diabetes and working on a type 1 specific project is really exciting. It gives me a different view and helps me focus on what people with type 1 need and want. It also helps me motivate the research team during long, hard lab days because knowing the end goal pushes us through. As a biomedical research lab, working with cells, tissues and models, we can feel separate from patients but having my perspective helps us. For example, I help scientists who aren’t used to speaking directly to people with type 1 to make sure the language they use in their presentations has the sensitivity and best phrasing for people with diabetes to read.

Teamwork in the Grand Challenge

I love working with the team in Dr James Cantley’s lab. We have lots of collaborators with different expertise working on different projects, so I get to see the other research taking place. We have lab meetings every week and scientific journal clubs to discuss newly published research papers. The Grand Challenge has a really collaborative feel, and we’re invited to attend a variety of different meetings. I’ve been given lots of responsibility as a technician and treated the same as the postdoctoral researchers, which isn’t always the case in other labs. James appreciates that we need a range of people with a variety of diverse opinions to achieve the most success.

Boosting Scottish diabetes research

It’s great to see a Northern lab in the UK being recognised by the Grand Challenge and receiving this funding. I wanted to work in Scotland and have been following James Cantley’s research closely. In my previous lab, I gained experience processing and studying human pancreatic organs generously donated for diabetes research.  In James’ lab, we use a range of different cell and tissue approaches to progress our research, which means we can work faster and more flexibly towards new treatments.

Regrowing a person’s own beta cells

We’re studying pancreatic cell types which don’t make insulin to explore whether these can be converted into insulin-producing cells in people with type 1. The lab is exploring how the insulin-producing beta cells are related in embryos to another pancreatic cell type – the ductal cell. Dr Lisa Logie (a postdoctoral researcher) and I are optimising ductal cell isolation and culture, before other scientists in our team will add different drugs to see if they can transform them into beta cells.

A great research opportunity

I was following the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge before I started working in James’ lab. It’s a very exciting time for type 1 diabetes research. The unprecedented amount of funding very generously invested by the Steve Morgan Foundation is making science a lot more open and available to more people. Being an early career researcher, working on this high-profile project is a great opportunity for me to learn new techniques and become more specialised. I’ll be working on this research project for its five-year duration. This gives me job security and the chance to focus and commit to this one project, which is very unusual in academic research.

A cure for type 1 diabetes

No one person with type 1 is the same as another, so we need to make sure there are treatment options for everyone. To me, a real cure for type 1 would be not having to administer insulin or wear a pump. I want to have a normal experience of life without having to think about type 1 with every aspect of my day.
Developing a cure for type 1 is the goal, but in the short-term, we need to keep making progress towards better quality of life for people with type 1. Making inulin pumps more sensitive and reducing the amount of insulin needed would be helpful, which is where the novel insulins strand of the Grand Challenge comes in.

Five-year research plan

Over the next five years it will be important to test different ideas, to evaluate which work and which don’t so that we can adapt our thinking and move forward towards our goal.  Our aim is to develop a new treatment concept for type 1 by the end of the current Grand Challenge Fellowship, which we hope will then progress toward clinical trials.

You may also be interested in

James Cantley’s research
Dr James Cantley
James Cantley’s research

Find out more about the research project Morgan Shaw is working on.

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

Meet the other Grand Challenge Senior Research Fellows.

Thank you from Sarah
Professor Sarah Richardson sat at her lab computer
Thank you from Sarah

Discover how the Grand Challenge is helping researchers.

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“Thank you” from a Grand Challenge researcher

October 4, 2023
Professor Sarah Richardson sat at her lab computer

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is funding £50 million of research to propel us towards a cure and to change the lives of people living with type 1 diabetes. But the partnership has also been life-changing for the researchers who’ve been awarded Grand Challenge funding.

Earlier this year, Professor Sarah Richardson became one of the first exceptional scientists to receive Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge funding.

She’s already made tremendous progress, recruiting staff, setting up her lab, forming collaborations and finalising publications. And she still made time to tell us just what our funding means to her and how the Grand Challenge is building a culture that allows UK type 1 diabetes research to thrive.

“This funding has undoubtedly transformed my research and enthusiasm for life and helped me to build a solid team to push forward our important research.”

“The funds have already made a difference to me, to my team, to UK researchers and most importantly, I know this will ultimately make a difference for people living with type 1 diabetes. Thank you for making this possible.”

Before the fellowship, the demands of her job, gave her little time to focus just on research – but thanks to the Grand Challenge, this has changed beyond recognition.

“There were not enough hours in the day, days in the week and weeks in the year. The pressures were such that I was seriously considering what other options were out there for me. Something I was saddened by as my spark comes alive when I have the opportunity to work in this most important of areas, alongside colleagues who are equally driven and motivated by our common want to change lives for the better.”

“Every day is exciting. We are learning new things, developing new skills – I have learnt how to code – to improve our capacity to deal with large, complex datasets.”

Her team immediately swung into action.

“The team have leapt into the project with curiosity and drive, working carefully and conscientiously to advance our knowledge. I am so proud of how their knowledge and skills are developing, and this supportive environment encourages each of them to push their limits.”

But Sarah and her amazing team haven’t stopped there. Thanks to the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, they’ve been forging new collaborations with other world-leading teams to help translate what they’ve learned in the lab to people with type 1 diabetes.

“The Grand Challenge calls have got people talking, communicating and networking on a whole other level. The excitement and hope this has generated is palpable, and I am so excited to see the outcomes of this over the coming years.”

You may also be interested in

Protecting the pancreas
Protecting the pancreas

Professor Sarah Richardson’s project aims to investigate how and why the immune system destroys beta cells in type 1 diabetes, and how the process may differ between people with the condition.

Meet the Grand Challenge’s Senior Research Fellows
Meet the Grand Challenge’s Senior Research Fellows

We spoke to Dr James Cantley, Dr Vicky Salem and Professor Sarah Richardson, the first Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge funded researchers, to find out about their progress so far, their research careers, and their lives outside the lab.

Funded projects
Funded projects

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

Video, Views

“Thank you” from a Grand Challenge researcher

August 10, 2023
Professor Sarah Richardson sat at her lab computer

In this podcast produced by DRWF, listen to our Senior Research Fellows, Professor Sarah Richardson, Dr James Cantley and Dr Victoria Salem, as they discuss their research interests, Grand Challenge projects, and the impact funding can have on research.

The Living with Diabetes podcast, produced by the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation (DRWF) and hosted by Claire Levy, showcases inspirational stories about diabetes. In episode 22 of the series, the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge takes centre stage, as Claire interviews our three Senior Research Fellows. Hear from Professor Sarah Richardson, Dr James Cantley and Dr Victoria Salem as they explore their specific areas of research and explain how Grand Challenge funding is supporting them to devote more time and energy to their research.

Listen to the recording of the Grand Challenge podcast episode.

Find out more about the funded projects

Breathing new life into beta cells
Dr James Cantley
Breathing new life into beta cells

Dr James Cantley’s project aims to identify, develop and test new treatments to grow new beta cells, and encourage surviving beta cells to replicate directly in the pancreases of people with type 1 diabetes.

‘Printing’ a safe haven for beta cells
Dr Vicky Salem in lab
‘Printing’ a safe haven for beta cells

Dr Victoria Salem’s project aims to develop a device that can be implanted into people with type 1 diabetes to deliver a new supply of beta cells.

Protecting the pancreas
Professor Sarah Richardson sat at her lab computer
Protecting the pancreas

Professor Sarah Richardson’s project aims to investigate how and why the immune system destroys beta cells in type 1 diabetes, and how the process may differ between people with the condition.

Views

“Thank you” from a Grand Challenge researcher

August 2, 2023
Professor Sarah Richardson sat at her lab computer

Earlier this year, we kicked off the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge’s £50 million programme of research when we announced the very first scientists who will each solve different problems that could unlock a new era in treatments for people living with type 1. And now, three months later, they’ve already made tremendous progress by recruiting staff, setting up their labs, forming collaborations and even finalising publications. We caught up with them to hear about their research journeys and their hopes for the Grand Challenge.

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is funding £50 million of research to propel us towards a cure and to change the lives of people living with type 1 diabetes. But the partnership has also been life-changing for the researchers who’ve been awarded Grand Challenge funding.

Earlier this year, Professor Sarah Richardson became one of the first exceptional scientists to receive Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge funding.

She’s already made tremendous progress, recruiting staff, setting up her lab, forming collaborations and finalising publications. And she still made time to tell us just what our funding means to her and how the Grand Challenge is building a culture that allows UK type 1 diabetes research to thrive.

“This funding has undoubtedly transformed my research and enthusiasm for life and helped me to build a solid team to push forward our important research.”

“The funds have already made a difference to me, to my team, to UK researchers and most importantly, I know this will ultimately make a difference for people living with type 1 diabetes. Thank you for making this possible.”

Before the fellowship, the demands of her job, gave her little time to focus just on research – but thanks to the Grand Challenge, this has changed beyond recognition.

“There were not enough hours in the day, days in the week and weeks in the year. The pressures were such that I was seriously considering what other options were out there for me. Something I was saddened by as my spark comes alive when I have the opportunity to work in this most important of areas, alongside colleagues who are equally driven and motivated by our common want to change lives for the better.”

“Every day is exciting. We are learning new things, developing new skills – I have learnt how to code – to improve our capacity to deal with large, complex datasets.”

Her team immediately swung into action.

“The team have leapt into the project with curiosity and drive, working carefully and conscientiously to advance our knowledge. I am so proud of how their knowledge and skills are developing, and this supportive environment encourages each of them to push their limits.”

But Sarah and her amazing team haven’t stopped there. Thanks to the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, they’ve been forging new collaborations with other world-leading teams to help translate what they’ve learned in the lab to people with type 1 diabetes.

“The Grand Challenge calls have got people talking, communicating and networking on a whole other level. The excitement and hope this has generated is palpable, and I am so excited to see the outcomes of this over the coming years.”

How did you involve people with diabetes when shaping your Grand Challenge research ideas?

Vicky Salem

“For this application, I worked with Alex Silverstein who has type 1 himself, but who has also been the most phenomenal patient advocate over the years through his work with Health Data Research UK.”

James Cantley

“I’ve been a member of a Diabetes UK Diabetes Research Steering Group for 6 years and have also been involved in many public engagement events. Beta cell regeneration regularly features in these discussions.”

“In many ways, I think beta cell regeneration could be the ultimate treatment for type 1 diabetes. We do have a way to go before we see it move from the bench to bedside, but we are on the cusp of a new era of type 1 diabetes treatment, and I can’t wait to see where this research takes us.”

“I’m extremely grateful to those with diabetes who give up their time to help advise and review our research; this input is invaluable to advancing science.”

Sarah Richardson

“Through my work and being a member of a Diabetes UK Diabetes Research Steering Group, I’ve met and become friends with many people with type 1 diabetes, who remain a huge source of inspiration for me.”

“I see the burden; I see the worry. My goal is to make this burden lighter and one day to hopefully remove it entirely.”

“Conversations with people with lived experience of type 1 are always enlightening, humbling and fuel my determination and passion to make a difference.”

How has your Senior Research Fellowship been progressing so far?

Vicky Salem

“We’ve only just started work on the project, but so far, we’ve recruited the most fantastic group of PhD students and postdocs who come from a range of different scientific backgrounds – biologists, biochemists, material scientists and chemists. Together we’ve already managed to grow blood vessels from cells that have been taken from a patient with type 1 diabetes, giving us a single blood sample.”

“We can extract some cells from that blood sample and grow them in the lab and then use those to build brand new blood vessel networks outside the body. This is the start of the skeleton or the backbone we need to introduce the islets to, to then re-transplant them back into that patient.”

“It’s hugely exciting. We can actually see blood flowing through the blood vessels we’re growing in the lab. This kind of an advance applies not only to people with diabetes, but to all sorts of other regenerative medicine approaches.”

James Cantley

“The fellowship has been really helpful in protecting my time and has given me the ability to focus on research fully.”

“The kudos and publicity surrounding the announcement of the Grand Challenge funding has helped me succeed in recruiting three great people to my team, including a research technician, postdoc and PhD student. Advertising the roles as part of the Grand Challenges attracted high quality international candidates with essential skillsets.”

“I’m very excited to begin the next steps.”

Sarah Richardson

“It’s been very exciting to get started! We’ve recruited some amazing people to our team, the new postdoc and research technician have both really hit the ground running.”

“Together we’ve made a lot of progress, preparing for large-scale imaging analysis and making sure everything is in place for future work. This included upgrading our setup so that up to 10 people can use the software at the same time, both in the lab or remotely. Previously only two people could use it at once and they had to be physically in the lab. This really is a huge step forward!”

“We’ve also collated pancreas images from biobanks around the world, including some very rare samples, allowing us to systematically analyse pancreatic islets in people diagnosed at different ages and stages of type 1 diabetes.”

“We’re also working on getting a few papers submitted to academic journals. The work is fast paced but I’m so grateful to be in this position.”

What is the best thing about your work?

Vicky Salem

“I have the best job in the world. That’s because about 40% of my time is spent with patients, helping them to manage their condition, which is just so rewarding.”

“And of course, talking to patients is incredibly important. There is no point sitting in an ivory tower and coming up with solutions to problems that don’t exist or aren’t important to patients.”

James Cantley

“I’m driven by the excitement of discovering new insights into how the body works, especially the pancreatic beta cell, which has occupied most of my waking hours for the past 20 years.”

“I enjoy the camaraderie and collaborative nature of research, working together towards a common goal, and training the scientists and research leaders of the future. And this Senior Research Fellowship combines all of these!”

Sarah Richardson

“There are less than 700 pancreases available to the research community from people with type 1 diabetes, and even fewer from individuals very close to type 1 diabetes diagnosis where the disease process is most active. Each one looks very different depending on the age someone was diagnosed.”

“One of the best things about my job is spending my day looking at these incredibly beautiful images and working with talented and dedicated researchers to tease out what they can tell us about the root causes of type 1 diabetes.”

Can you tell us about a defining moment in your work as a scientist?

Vicky Salem

“In 2016, I was awarded almost £900,000 of funding from Diabetes UK, to investigate how gut hormones could treat type 2 diabetes and obesity in the future. This was totally life-changing for me because it gave me the opportunity to finish my junior doctor training and become a consultant and at the same time open my own lab and become an independent clinician scientist.”

“At the beginning of this project, I proposed the idea of developing a new way to take images of cells in the pancreas. I remember walking into the room with this huge spinning microscope that cost about £1 million, and thinking, oh my God, where is the on switch?!”

“But even to this day, I remember the first time I saw an image on that microscope of pancreas cells inside a living animal releasing insulin at single cell beta cell resolution, and I thought, yes, I can do this, and I will do this.”

James Cantley

“There have been so many memorable moments in my career, too many to mention! If forced to pick, I would say working on my Diabetes UK-funded PhD project when I was investigating the interaction between oxygen and glucose sensing pathways in beta cells.”

“This was a large project with multiple collaborators, and being involved with so many talented colleagues really underscored the importance of cooperation in science.”

Sarah Richardson

“I will never forget the day I first sat in the lab looking down the microscope reviewing precious donor pancreas tissues, tears streamed down my face as I recognised the loss of so many people, especially children, so far before their time. I want to ensure that we learn from these to improve the lives of those living with type 1 diabetes now and in the future.”

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Vicky Salem

“I have three children, Georgia is 10, Saul is 11 and Anna is 13, so every bit of spare time I get is focused on them.”

“I have struggled with mum guilt my entire career; I haven’t always been the type of mum that has been at the school gate every day. But I’ve tried to make up for that by talking to them all the time about my work, about the world and encouraging in them the same kind of curiosity that makes my job so fulfilling.”

James Cantley

“When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my wife and two daughters, exploring the Scottish Highlands. I’m also a keen climber which helps me to relax and refocus.”

Sarah Richardson

“I have a husband and two daughters, so when I’m not in the lab I take every opportunity to spend time with them and listen to them play music at different open mic nights.”

“I also walk (and run when I can) with my dog, an Australian Kelpie called Mick. Some of my best ideas and solutions to challenges come out of these walks.”

First class research can’t happen without first class researchers, and we couldn’t be more excited to see how the three Senior Research Fellows will break new ground over the next five years.

Find out more about the funded projects

Breathing new life into beta cells
Dr James Cantley
Breathing new life into beta cells

Dr James Cantley’s project aims to identify, develop and test new treatments to grow new beta cells, and encourage surviving beta cells to replicate directly in the pancreases of people with type 1 diabetes.

‘Printing’ a safe haven for beta cells
Dr Vicky Salem in lab
‘Printing’ a safe haven for beta cells

Dr Victoria Salem’s project aims to develop a device that can be implanted into people with type 1 diabetes to deliver a new supply of beta cells.

Protecting the pancreas
Professor Sarah Richardson sat at her lab computer
Protecting the pancreas

Professor Sarah Richardson’s project aims to investigate how and why the immune system destroys beta cells in type 1 diabetes, and how the process may differ between people with the condition.

Video, Views

“Thank you” from a Grand Challenge researcher

May 11, 2023
Professor Sarah Richardson sat at her lab computer

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is funding £50 million of research to propel us towards a cure and to change the lives of people living with type 1 diabetes. But the partnership has also been life-changing for the researchers who’ve been awarded Grand Challenge funding.

Earlier this year, Professor Sarah Richardson became one of the first exceptional scientists to receive Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge funding.

She’s already made tremendous progress, recruiting staff, setting up her lab, forming collaborations and finalising publications. And she still made time to tell us just what our funding means to her and how the Grand Challenge is building a culture that allows UK type 1 diabetes research to thrive.

“This funding has undoubtedly transformed my research and enthusiasm for life and helped me to build a solid team to push forward our important research.”

“The funds have already made a difference to me, to my team, to UK researchers and most importantly, I know this will ultimately make a difference for people living with type 1 diabetes. Thank you for making this possible.”

Before the fellowship, the demands of her job, gave her little time to focus just on research – but thanks to the Grand Challenge, this has changed beyond recognition.

“There were not enough hours in the day, days in the week and weeks in the year. The pressures were such that I was seriously considering what other options were out there for me. Something I was saddened by as my spark comes alive when I have the opportunity to work in this most important of areas, alongside colleagues who are equally driven and motivated by our common want to change lives for the better.”

“Every day is exciting. We are learning new things, developing new skills – I have learnt how to code – to improve our capacity to deal with large, complex datasets.”

Her team immediately swung into action.

“The team have leapt into the project with curiosity and drive, working carefully and conscientiously to advance our knowledge. I am so proud of how their knowledge and skills are developing, and this supportive environment encourages each of them to push their limits.”

But Sarah and her amazing team haven’t stopped there. Thanks to the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, they’ve been forging new collaborations with other world-leading teams to help translate what they’ve learned in the lab to people with type 1 diabetes.

“The Grand Challenge calls have got people talking, communicating and networking on a whole other level. The excitement and hope this has generated is palpable, and I am so excited to see the outcomes of this over the coming years.”

Views

Q&A with Professor Simon Heller

We spoke to Professor Simon Heller, world-renowned diabetes specialist and Chair of the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge Scientific Advisory Panels, to find out about his research journey and hopes for the Grand Challenge

February 10, 2023
Professor Simon Heller Chair of the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge scientific advisory panels

Professor Simon Heller is chair of all three scientific advisory panels in the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, covering beta cells, novel insulins and root causes of type 1 diabetes. Along with the leading experts who sit on these panels, Simon will help to steer the direction of the Grand Challenge to make sure our funding is invested in the right places, with the biggest potential to change the lives of people with type 1 diabetes. He is also Professor of Clinical Diabetes at the University of Sheffield and a world-renowned scientist, whose research has led the way in transforming our understanding of hypoglycaemia.

Why did you want to get involved with the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge?

Simon: “It was a huge honour to be asked to assist in determining how this huge amount of funding could best be used to benefit type 1 diabetes research in the UK. It’s important to me to do my best to see our research move more quickly towards a cure for people with type 1.”

How do you think the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge will be a game-changer for type 1 diabetes research?

“I hope that the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge will allow the UK to play a major part in moving the research landscape closer to a cure. It will hopefully enable us to do something much more rapidly than we otherwise would be able to.”

What would a cure for type 1 diabetes look like to you?

“A cure would be removing the burden of day-to-day self-management of type 1 diabetes. In particular, it would allow people with the condition to live a life of spontaneity and doing activities which those of us without diabetes often take for granted.”

How did you get into the field of type 1 diabetes research?

“When I arrived at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham as a trainee registrar, I was intending to be a cardiologist. But a six-month placement in a diabetes team changed that. The legendary diabetes researcher Robert Tattersall (who discovered MODY and introduced the world to self-monitoring blood glucose levels) was my boss. He was a wonderful teacher who taught me to listen to people with diabetes and learn for myself how much it asked of people in terms of self-management. He also showed me that it wasn’t the healthcare professionals who made the biggest impact on managing type 1, but instead how much the person themselves could learn and implement about this very complex condition. Robert inspired me to become a researcher and showed me what an interesting and important specialty diabetes is.”

What has been your career highlight so far?

“It’s hard to narrow it down. One highlight is bringing the DAFNE training course – which helps people with type 1 lead a healthy life – from Germany to the UK’s NHS. Another key achievement was discovering that repeated hypos lead to impaired awareness of hypoglycaemia and increased risk of hypoglycaemia. I feel fortunate that I have been involved in research which has made a difference to the lives of people with type 1.”

Tell us something we don’t know about diabetes or the pancreas

“When I was preparing a talk on hypoglycaemia, I learnt that the first definition of 1 unit of insulin was the amount of insulin which could cause an epileptic seizure in a rabbit. This is because over a hundred years ago when insulin was discovered, there was no way of measuring insulin amounts. I read this fact in a wonderful book by Michael Bliss titled The Discovery of Insulin.”

What are you currently working on?

“My main research project at the moment is working with researchers from the USA, UK and Australia on a large research trial. The study is testing what the most effective way of restoring the warnings for hypoglycaemia in people with type 1 who have lost them.”

What skills do you need to have to be a great researcher?

“From working with great researchers, I’ve learnt that they need to be curious, creative and persistent. The best clinical researchers listen to people with lived experience to ensure they address important questions.”

What do you like doing when you’re not working on research?

“I spend my spare time travelling to interesting places, reading, and listening to music – particularly opera. I also love spending time with my family and my three grandkids. Less rewarding in recent years has been my love for Tottenham Hotspur FC.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t a researcher?

“I can’t think of any other careers as rewarding as supporting patients. I’d be very happy just doing clinical work alone.”

Views

Q&A with Professor Simon Heller

We spoke to Professor Simon Heller, world-renowned diabetes specialist and Chair of the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge Scientific Advisory Panels, to find out about his research journey and hopes for the Grand Challenge

September 30, 2022
Professor Simon Heller Chair of the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge scientific advisory panels

Professor Simon Heller is chair of all three scientific advisory panels in the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, covering beta cells, novel insulins and root causes of type 1 diabetes. Along with the leading experts who sit on these panels, Simon will help to steer the direction of the Grand Challenge to make sure our funding is invested in the right places, with the biggest potential to change the lives of people with type 1 diabetes. He is also Professor of Clinical Diabetes at the University of Sheffield and a world-renowned scientist, whose research has led the way in transforming our understanding of hypoglycaemia.

Why did you want to get involved with the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge?

Simon: “It was a huge honour to be asked to assist in determining how this huge amount of funding could best be used to benefit type 1 diabetes research in the UK. It’s important to me to do my best to see our research move more quickly towards a cure for people with type 1.”

How do you think the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge will be a game-changer for type 1 diabetes research?

“I hope that the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge will allow the UK to play a major part in moving the research landscape closer to a cure. It will hopefully enable us to do something much more rapidly than we otherwise would be able to.”

What would a cure for type 1 diabetes look like to you?

“A cure would be removing the burden of day-to-day self-management of type 1 diabetes. In particular, it would allow people with the condition to live a life of spontaneity and doing activities which those of us without diabetes often take for granted.”

How did you get into the field of type 1 diabetes research?

“When I arrived at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham as a trainee registrar, I was intending to be a cardiologist. But a six-month placement in a diabetes team changed that. The legendary diabetes researcher Robert Tattersall (who discovered MODY and introduced the world to self-monitoring blood glucose levels) was my boss. He was a wonderful teacher who taught me to listen to people with diabetes and learn for myself how much it asked of people in terms of self-management. He also showed me that it wasn’t the healthcare professionals who made the biggest impact on managing type 1, but instead how much the person themselves could learn and implement about this very complex condition. Robert inspired me to become a researcher and showed me what an interesting and important specialty diabetes is.”

What has been your career highlight so far?

“It’s hard to narrow it down. One highlight is bringing the DAFNE training course – which helps people with type 1 lead a healthy life – from Germany to the UK’s NHS. Another key achievement was discovering that repeated hypos lead to impaired awareness of hypoglycaemia and increased risk of hypoglycaemia. I feel fortunate that I have been involved in research which has made a difference to the lives of people with type 1.”

Tell us something we don’t know about diabetes or the pancreas

“When I was preparing a talk on hypoglycaemia, I learnt that the first definition of 1 unit of insulin was the amount of insulin which could cause an epileptic seizure in a rabbit. This is because over a hundred years ago when insulin was discovered, there was no way of measuring insulin amounts. I read this fact in a wonderful book by Michael Bliss titled The Discovery of Insulin.”

What are you currently working on?

“My main research project at the moment is working with researchers from the USA, UK and Australia on a large research trial. The study is testing what the most effective way of restoring the warnings for hypoglycaemia in people with type 1 who have lost them.”

What skills do you need to have to be a great researcher?

“From working with great researchers, I’ve learnt that they need to be curious, creative and persistent. The best clinical researchers listen to people with lived experience to ensure they address important questions.”

What do you like doing when you’re not working on research?

“I spend my spare time travelling to interesting places, reading, and listening to music – particularly opera. I also love spending time with my family and my three grandkids. Less rewarding in recent years has been my love for Tottenham Hotspur FC.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t a researcher?

“I can’t think of any other careers as rewarding as supporting patients. I’d be very happy just doing clinical work alone.”

Views

The Morgans’ story

We caught up with Steve and Sally Morgan of the Steve Morgan Foundation to find out more about their motivation for giving and their hopes for the future.

September 14, 2022

“We want to help bring about change for the whole type 1 community,” explains Steve. “The community is a tight family made up of those who have type 1 and those who care for them. The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge aims to find better solutions for everyone.”

Steve and Sally were introduced to the type 1 community and the relentless daily management of the condition when Sally’s son Hugo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of seven.

“Hugo was diagnosed whilst we were on holiday in Antigua,” says Sally. “Despite having all the tell-tale signs: sudden weight loss, lethargy, excessive drinking etc. we had not comprehended how seriously poorly he was. As with any recent diagnosis understanding how to manage Hugo’s diabetes was a huge learning curve, both practically and mentally.”

Steve adds: “The diagnosis was a shock but we quickly got on the case – we weren’t going to take it lying down! Following his diagnosis in July, he went onto a pump in September. We’re constantly looking at new technologies and asking if we should be looking at smart pens, different sensors and more.”

While technology plays an important part in the management of Hugo’s type 1, Steve and Sally believe in the power of research to bring about better treatments, and eventually a cure.

Steve and Sally were introduced to JDRF and the world of type 1 research when Hugo was being cared for by the Countess of Chester Hospital. Sally explains: “Hugo was given a KIDSAC that contained Rufus the bear. That bear especially helped Hugo, he would frequently use it to practice injections and explain his condition to teachers and classmates. Philanthropy is important to us, so I decided to do some due diligence into JDRF as a charity. We liked what we learned and 12 months after Hugo’s diagnosis we approached the charity about making a meaningful donation.”

Steve and Sally have a long history of philanthropic giving. In 2001 Steve founded the Steve Morgan Foundation to support projects that help children and families, people with physical or learning disabilities, the elderly, or those that are socially disadvantaged in North Wales, Merseyside and Cheshire. Since its launch, the Foundation has committed assets of £300 million for charities and supported over 2,000 grants, which have benefitted over 3 million people.

“Four years ago, we donated £3m to JDRF,” says Steve. “We wanted it to go directly into research. We followed through with subsequent grants. We’ve never, ever just sat back and written cheques. We don’t want what we donate to end up being swallowed up by the administration costs, we want it to go directly to where it’s needed. In this case to finding a cure for Type I diabetes.”

The latest donation of £50 million to Diabetes UK and JDRF will be directed into three main avenues of research. Over the next five years the partnership will challenge scientists to come up with pioneering research ideas focusing on new insulins, treatments to stop the immune system’s attack on insulin-making beta cells and treatments to rescue and replace beta cells.

“When we told Hugo about the £50m donation, he just burst into tears and gave Steve a great big hug,” says Sally. “It shows the size of what he has to deal with on a day-to-day basis due to his type 1 diabetes. The donation is for everyone living with type 1, it gives hope.”

The scale of the donation and ambitions of the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge will allow the partnership to make bigger strides forward in the search for more effective treatments and eventually a cure, giving everyone with type 1 hope that in the future type 1 diabetes won’t be the continuous burden that it currently is.

“It would be in our wildest dreams to get a cure at the end of these five years,” says Steve. “If nothing else it will bring forward that day.”