September 1, 2022

$2.7 billion dollars of research and decades of hard work brings T1D community closer to a cure

Thanks to recent advances, people with type 1 diabetes (T1D) could potentially be freed from their blood-glucose monitors and insulin injections for years, or even decades. The JDRF Cell Therapies Program invests in research and clinical trials to develop and deliver life-changing therapies that place healthy, insulin-producing cells back into the bodies of people with T1D.

JDRF has been the leading organization focused on curing T1D since two families founded the organization in 1970, to develop cures for their children. Aaron Kowalski, Ph.D., is the current CEO, but has spent many years as a member and then leader of the scientific team at the organization. While heโ€™s worked professionally in the diabetes field for a long time, his own family has been impacted by the disease much longerโ€”more than 40 years.

My brother Stephen was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 3 in 1977 and started on two shots of animal insulin a day and urine glucose testing. I was diagnosed at 13 in 1984.

JDRF International CEO Aaron Kowalski, Ph.D

While there have been many advances in technology to improve T1D care and treatment since those days, the quest for cures still remains. One known way to stop the disease is to replace destroyed beta cells with cells that make insulin and protect them, so that they can function for a very long time. 

Today, there are thousands of people with T1D who have had their blood sugars normalized by receiving transplants. The technology, however, remains limited to a small portion of people because of the challenges of producing beta cells and the need for chronic immunosuppression. 

Cell replacement therapy has been a major area of focus for JDRF, and the latest breakthrough comes in the form of stem cell-derived islets. JDRF has been a leader in stem cell research since the beginning, funding over $150 million since 2000, and several breakthrough clinical trials may finally herald a solution.

Stem cell-derived islets could provide an unlimited source that would allow โ€”theoretically โ€” everyone with type 1 diabetes to have this therapy.

JDRF International CEO Aaron Kowalski, Ph.D

JDRF and the JDRF T1D Fund โ€” a venture philanthropy vehicle founded in 2016โ€” believe that competition drives innovation and that โ€œmultiple shots on goalโ€ are a good thing, and have several important investments in cell replacement technologies. JDRFโ€™s CEO is confident that it isnโ€™t a matter of if stem cell transplants will be available to the T1D community, itโ€™s only a matter of when. 

“There would be nothing more life-changing than taking off our pumps, putting down our insulin pens, and making our own insulin again. I dream about that every day, for my brother Steve and me, and for everyone impacted by type 1.”

JDRF International CEO Aaron Kowalski, Ph.D