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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