The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, today announced a joint investment of $20 million to support new diabetes research teams across Canada.
The Government of Canada is providing $14 million of the funding announced through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The additional $6 million is provided by JDRF Canada, Diabetes Canada, The Kidney Foundation of Canada, and Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé. This investment is part of CIHR’s 100 Years of Insulin: Accelerating Canadian Discoveries to Defeat Diabetes initiative.
Researchers at UBC and affiliated health research institutes are involved in seven of the 17 teams tasked with developing new approaches to preventing, treating, and caring for Canadians living with diabetes. Three of these projects, including one previously announced, involve LSI leadership.
Dr. Josef Penninger, Director of the LSI, is co-nominated principal investigator on a UK-Canada Diabetes Research Team Grant, along with Dr. David Andrew Long (University College London):
Diabetes affects nearly 3 million Canadians and 8.8% of the global population. In Canada, treating new cases of diabetes diagnosed between 2012-22 is estimated to cost $15.4 billion, while in the U.K., 10% of the NHS budget is spent on treating diabetes and associated complications, including kidney disease, blindness, heart attacks, stroke and amputation of lower limbs. These complications are often caused by changes in blood vessels; therefore, strategies that protect or repair blood vessels may be promising new treatments.
Studies using mice and cultured cells have identified several molecules that protect blood vessels but moving these findings from laboratories to humans has been difficult. Dr. Josef Penninger’s group recently developed a novel method to create human blood vessels from stem cells in the laboratory. When exposed to diabetic conditions, these artificial blood vessels show the same changes and features seen in the blood vessels of diabetic patients. These artificial blood vessels will allow scientists to examine promising findings from mice and cells in a human-like environment before conducting clinical trials with human patients.
Dr. Penninger will work with a team of U.K. based scientists, Drs. David Long, Luigi Gnudi, and Karen Price, to assess the potential of two previously identified molecules angiopoietin-2 and apelin to reverse changes caused by high blood sugar in artificial human blood vessels. Additionally, they will examine why some diabetic patients do not develop blood vessel-related complications. Their findings will ultimately lead to the discovery of new treatments for blood vessel complications in diabetes.
LSI Deputy Director Dr. James Johnson is a principal investigator on a Diabetes Mechanisms and Translational Solutions team, along with three other Canadian researchers, Dr. Patrick MacDonald, (NPI, University of Alberta), Dr. Jennifer Bruin, (Carleton University), and Dr. Jianguo (Jeff) Xia (McGill University):
A deep phenotyping network for understanding human islet variation in health and diabetes
Insulin is the primary hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. It is produced by the pancreatic islets of Langerhans, rises after a meal to promote energy storage, and falls during fasting to allow energy mobilization. The levels of insulin in the blood vary tremendously amongst people. Nutrition, age, sex, genetics, and environmental exposures are all important factors likely to impact insulin levels. However, the underlying mechanisms by which these factors affect islet insulin production at the cellular level are not clear. Our team seeks to understand the variability in human islet function in relation to genetic and environmental impacts on diabetes risk and to identify mechanisms of islet dysfunction in diabetes. To do this we will take advantage of extensive data on the molecular, cellular, and physiological function of islets from human organ donors. We will also produce tools and resources so that other researchers can explore this data to answer their own questions about islet dysfunction in diabetes.
“I’m very excited this team project was funded because it will usher in a new era of open team science to study human pancreatic islets, the mini-organs that secrete insulin and that are defective or destroyed in diabetes,” says Dr. Johnson. “This project, designed in consultation with patient partners, looks at how diet and environment affect human islets, helping us understand some of the causes of diabetes and approaches to treat it.
“I never want to predict the future, and it is not fair to make specific promises to patients,” adds Johnson, “but I can say that the pace of discovery is very fast these days and we continue to make great progress in understanding diabetes. With greater understanding comes more opportunities for new and better treatments and preventative strategies.”