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Grand Challenge in the community

June 18, 2024
A photo of Liam (left) and his son (Jack) standing behind a podium with a laptop on it. Liam points at Jack and both are smiling.

In May, we were out and about at type 1 diabetes community events. First, the virtual peer support platform DiabetesChat held a Grand Challenge special, then members of the Steve Morgan Foundation led a session at the annual Talking About Diabetes event.

DiabetesChat Grand Challenge special

DiabetesChat’s fifth research event was all about the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge. Liam Eaglestone, CEO of the Steve Morgan Foundation (SMF), kicked off with a short presentation about SMF and their £50 million investment in type 1 diabetes research. He explained how the Grand Challenge is disrupting the research landscape and accelerating us towards treatments and cures for type 1.

A screenshot of the people involved in the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge research event on DiabetesChat. Eight squares each feature a still of a person within a blue frame with the DiabetesChat logo in the top left corner.

Panel Discussion

DiabetesChat co-host Mary Murphy chaired a panel discussion between the three Senior Research Fellows, Professor Sarah Richardson, Dr James Cantley and Dr Victoria Salem. Mary asked the researchers questions about the Grand Challenge, including how the partnership is supporting research into future therapies and cures for type 1.

Dr Salem said: “The Grand Challenge has given us the freedom to think disruptively and bring in new ideas from other fields.”

Dr Cantley answered: “This type of research is mission driven, allowing us to take risks to move the field forward, improving lives and finding cures.”

Professor Richardson said: “We are supporting the next generation of researchers and establishing the research infrastructure here in the UK. With fresh brains in the mix, the future is bright!”

Research presentations

Each researcher spoke about their research and the audience were able to ask questions. Dr Cantley explained how he is developing new treatments for type 1, Professor Richardson took us through her research into type 1 immunology, and Dr Salem described how she is creating a protective device for lab-grown beta cells.

Watch the recording of the Grand Challenge DiabetesChat.

Response from the community

Over five hundred people tuned in to the event live, with almost 2,000 watching the recording. One audience member said: “Sarah’s slides with the artwork has made me understand my T1D after almost 60 years of diagnosis. Next life, I want to be a researcher!” Another said: “Amazing insight and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge tonight about my T1D and what the future might hold.”

Tom Dean, who hosts DiabetesChat said: “It was a fabulous, interesting and informative evening and the feedback we have received from the community has been very positive. It has given people hope and great anticipation for a healthier future for us all.”

SMF at Talking About Diabetes

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge had a big presence at this year’s Talking About Diabetes (TAD) event in Liverpool, with members of Diabetes UK, JDRF UK and SMF all in attendance, both on and off the stage.

A photo of Liam (left) and his son (Jack) standing behind a podium with a laptop on it. Liam points at Jack and both are smiling.

Photo of Liam (left) and Jack (right), courtesy of Marc Lungley.

Liam and Jack Eaglestone

Liam and his son Jack were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just one year apart. The pair gave a joint talk at this year’s TAD event where they praised the advances in technology and those championing access to it. Both Liam and Jack use hybrid closed loop systems to manage their type 1. They shared how the system has helped stabilise their blood glucose levels, reduce diabetes burnout and improve their sleep.

Jack said: “I used to have to take around one day a week off school because my blood glucose levels were so unstable. I would have repeated hypos which made me fall unconscious, high ketones and vomiting. Then, hybrid closed loop made that all disappear. It was like a miracle.”

Liam added: “Technology is great – but it is not a cure. The Grand Challenge is seeking that cure, by bringing together some of the best and brightest brains in the type 1 research community.”

A message from Steve and Sally Morgan

Steve and Sally Morgan couldn’t be at TAD in person, so they shared a video sharing their personal connection to type 1 through Sally’s son, Hugo, which led to the SMF’s transformational £50 million investment in type 1 diabetes research.

Watch the video from the Morgans below.

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

Learn about Dr Cantley’s Grand Challenge research project at the University of Dundee.

Prof Sarah Richardson’s research
Professor Sarah Richardson sat at her lab computer
Prof Sarah Richardson’s research

Learn about Professor Richardson’s Grand Challenge research project at the University of Exeter.

Dr Vicky Salem’s research
Dr Vicky Salem in lab
Dr Vicky Salem’s research

Learn about Dr Salem’s Grand Challenge research project at the Imperial College London.

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What it’s like being an expert by experience in the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge

May 31, 2024
A close up photo of David Mitchell smiling in front of a fence wearing a rain jacket.

David Mitchell lives with type 1 diabetes and is a member of the expert funding panel guiding the projects we will fund through the Novel Insulins challenge. Here, he explains his volunteer role on the panel, the importance of involving people with lived experience in research, and what he learnt from the experience.

The Grand Challenge has committed £15 million of funding for researchers to design the next generation of insulins to make managing type 1 diabetes less challenging. To ensure we fund the most promising projects that offer the most potential benefit for people with type 1, we asked researchers to pitch their project ideas to a panel of experts. In this blog, David shares his experience of being a lived experience member of this panel.

Novel insulins pitches

It was a privilege being part of the international panel of experts for the Novel Insulins Innovation Incubator, reviewing grant applications of up to £500,000. It was fascinating to hear the exciting ideas that the researchers presented to us. All the research ideas had a lot of viability behind them already – my role was to provide a lived experience voice to help maximise the projects’ impact on people with type 1.

Insights on living with type 1

I gave the researchers perspective on the day-to-day things I experience with type 1. While some aspects are relatively well understood, I can relay little quirks to people who don’t live with the condition. For example, I asked the researchers pitching their projects to explain how their new ideas for insulin would consider the varying levels of daily activities not just between individuals but in the same person on different days.

Some of the applicants provided more detail than others on how they would factor exercise into their designs, which helped us evaluate the projects. Encouraging the researchers and other panel members to think about the daily reality of life with type 1 and how that affects science is why it is so important to involve people with lived experience in research right from the start.

Drawing inspiration from other industries

This volunteer role is very different from my career working at a financial technology (fintech) company. In that industry, we approach things from a different position to traditional corporate companies, so I’ve been able to suggest alternative ways of doing things. For example, we bring people together in big ‘hackathon’ events, which foster collaborative problem-solving over a short space of time. There’s no reason this concept couldn’t be taken into the research lab. This made me feel like, as well as relaying my experiences, I was also adding value to the development of the science.

Giving hope to people with type 1

As a member of the panel, I learnt a lot about type 1 diabetes research. I heard how insulin treatment could be enhanced to take away the need to constantly pump more insulin in and could be simplified to just one injection a day or even a week. Throughout the day, I learnt about different ideas for insulins that reduce the risk of hypos – a reality people with type 1 like me have to deal with.

When you live with the daily grind of constant insulin injections and glucose monitoring, the possibility that these insulins could be developed and allow you to forget about type 1 for the day is fabulous. Some trials of novel insulins are ongoing in animals. Learning that research is happening at this level gives me hope this could translate to something meaningful for humans.

The Grand Challenge approaches research differently

The amount of money the Grand Challenge is investing in type 1 diabetes research is fantastic. Being a panel member opened my eyes to how this injection of funding will lead to amazing research and accelerate developments. The substantial funding means scientists aren’t just working on a concept, it’s taking those ideas forward to unlock real progress and new treatments. It also attracts the interest of top experts from around the world to build on their amazing existing work.

I saw how the approach the Grand Challenge takes is different to typical research funding, which can be a long process. The Grand Challenge is structured to ensure that research ideas are turned into real action and meaningful change as soon as possible, while maintaining the scientific rigor.

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Two scientists are pipetting in the labGet involved in research

Explore opportunities for how you can join the Grand Challenge, including joining our research committees and taking part in our research.

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In our novel insulins symposium, researchers took us through the new forms of insulin they are developing.

Novel insulin challenge

Discovery what the novel insulins challenge is all about and why it’s a big part of the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge.

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Together Type 1 Young Leaders at DUKPC

May 28, 2024
A group of young people sitting together and chatting

In April, we were delighted to be joined at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference by seven Young Leaders from the Together Type 1 programme. With funding from the Steve Morgan Foundation, the UK-wide programme aims to bring together young people aged 11-25 years with type 1 diabetes, providing them with a platform to build confidence, learn new skills, and meet others in their region living with the condition.

The Young Leaders had a very busy schedule during the conference, attending key scientific sessions, interviewing Grand Challenge researchers, and sharing their own lived experience of type 1 diabetes with scientists and healthcare professionals alike. We’re grateful to two of them for taking the time to write about their first DUKPC experience.

Young Leader Elise Featherstone from the North team shared her reflections:

“A key presence at this year’s conference was the Type 1 Grand Challenge. Hearing about this research programme made me consider, for the first time, the reality of not having type 1 diabetes for the rest of my life. A cure may be sooner than we think, and it may well be because of the Grand Challenge!”

Bringing back beta cells 

Dr James Cantley, a Grand Challenge Senior Research Fellow, optimistically shared findings from his team who are working to grow back insulin-making beta cells directly in the pancreas. Even during its early stages, this research offers hope and optimism for the diabetes community that one day we will be able to have functioning beta cells again.

New homes for transplanted cells 

Dr Vicky Salem and Rea Tresa highlighted their lab’s work on bio-printing a protective housing unit to protect the life-saving transplanted beta cells. This project aims to make sure that new beta cells placed in the body are able to thrive and adapt. The Grand Challenge’s ability to bring great people and cutting-edge innovations together to accelerate life changing research is very exciting.

The type 1 timeline

Professor Sarah Richardson explained that as well as a cure for people with type 1 diabetes, we also need ways to prevent the condition from ever occurring in people at high risk. Prof Richardson shared her team’s work looking into rare pancreas samples. Obtaining these samples is difficult but has enabled Prof Richardson and her team to learn more around the type 1 diabetes timeline and how we may be able to prevent or intercept the immune system attack in type 1. Such a breakthrough could completely alter the implications of diabetes on society, our healthcare system, and end type 1 altogether for future generations.

Next Amelia Trencher from the Midlands and Eastern team summed up her thoughts:

“It was so wonderful to have the opportunity to attend DUKPC 2024 as a Young Leader, and to be able to have conversations with people who really wanted to hear about our experiences as young people living with type 1 diabetes.”

Scientific sessions

The collaboration between Together Type 1 and the Grand Challenge was a real highlight for all of us Young Leaders. I really enjoyed hearing the researcher I interviewed talk about his work and the impact he hoped it would have.

The main session about the Grand Challenge was really insightful and made us feel positive looking towards the future of life with type 1 diabetes. The main takeaways for me were that the big focus at the moment is on developing ways to give people with type 1 new beta cells, which seems to be very promising, moving towards a potential cure for type 1 in the reachable future.

Some researchers also talked about how they can use lessons learned from research into cancer and apply that to the diabetes research, which was very interesting to hear. It was also emphasised how important funding is for these projects.

Building networks

The Young Leaders were so pleased to meet Steve and Sally Morgan and to chat about how we have each benefited from being part of the Together Type 1 programme so far, and it was really lovely to see how much they cared about the personal impact of the programme of the lives of Young Leaders, not just the achievements and events that have taken place.

We also got to spend time with others who have lived experience of diabetes, and really enjoyed our joint session with the Dedoc voices, an international group diabetes advocates. It was also brilliant to just spend time with the other Young Leaders, as we had never met before, and by the end of the few days it felt like we’d been friends for ages.

The importance of the patient voice

On the second day, I was part of a panel discussion session about the first year of care for young people with diabetes. Not only was it such an honour to share the panel with some really inspiring people, but I also loved being able to have conversations during and after the session about the potential barriers for young people receiving optimal care.

I also had conversations with people about the mental burden of type 1 diabetes, including technology, which isn’t always considered by healthcare professionals, and can definitely be a barrier to optimal care.

Across the three days, I was so happy to see how engaged healthcare professionals were when talking to us about ways things could be improved in clinic, as well as realising how valuable our contributions can be in developing resources and programmes for other young people with type 1 diabetes.

In the future, I would love to see even more of a presence of young people at conferences, and in other spaces like DUKPC, and for more opportunities to meet and talk to researchers about their work, as this is something we don’t often get to do!

We’re grateful to Elise and Amelia for sharing what they did and learned while they were at DUKPC. It’s clear the Grand Challenge offers fresh hope to people living with type 1 diabetes.

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A packed auditorium at DUKPC 2024
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Read more about the Grand Challenge at DUKPC 2024.

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A photo of Morgan Shaw wearing a lab coat in a lab and holding up her insulin pump.
Hear from a Grand Challenge researcher with type 1

Morgan Shaw tells us how collaboration, ambition and people with type 1 are at the heart of the Grand Challenge.

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

Stay up to date with news and views from the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge and beyond.

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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.

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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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.”