Government of Canada and JDRF Canada announce new research funding to accelerate stem cell-based therapies for type 1 diabetes

Ottawa: There are more than 300,000 Canadians living with type 1 diabetes (T1D), an autoimmune disease with no known cause or cure, resulting in the dysfunction, damage or loss of pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin in our bodies. People with T1D must treat themselves with insulin several times per day to keep their blood glucose levels normal, and despite their best efforts, they often experience serious, and even life-threatening, complications.

To mark the end of Diabetes Awareness Month, Sonia Sidhu, Member of Parliament for Brampton South, on behalf of the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, announced an investment of $6 million through the CIHR-JDRF Partnership to Defeat Diabetes for two Canadian research teams to accelerate the development of stem cell-based therapies for the treatment of T1D.

Stem cells show great promise as a source of insulin-producing cells that could be transplanted to provide a new source of insulin, to replace dysfunctional, damaged or lost pancreatic beta cells. Canada has a remarkable legacy in leading discoveries in this area. Stem cells were discovered in Toronto in 1961, and in 2000, a team in Edmonton were the first to pioneer transplantation of pancreatic islets (the part of the pancreas that contains insulin-producing cells). These achievements represent important steps toward a treatment that will allow people with T1D to live healthy lives without daily insulin injections.

The research teams are led by Dr. Maria Cristina Nostro at the University Health Network and the University of Toronto and Dr. Francis Lynn at the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the University of British Columbia. The teams will build on Canada’s demonstrated research excellence and leadership in clinical islet transplantation, stem cell biology, diabetes, immunology and genetic engineering to accelerate stem cell-based therapies for T1D. They will work in collaboration with other Canadian researchers to tackle some of the biggest scientific challenges that impede our progress in this area and move us closer to a future where people with T1D will no longer rely on insulin therapy.

This funding was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes (CIHR-INMD), and JDRF Canada, through the CIHR-JDRF Partnership to Defeat Diabetes established in 2017. Each partner will invest $3 million over five years. This investment is part of a large research initiative, 100 Years of Insulin: Accelerating Canadian Discoveries to Defeat Diabetes, funded by CIHR and partners. This initiative commemorates the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin to be marked in 2021—a discovery that changed the lives of millions of Canadians and people around the world and won researchers Sir Frederick Banting and John Macleod the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

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