Rowena Chan, Honorary Chair of the 2019 Sun Life Walk to Cure Diabetes for JDRF, on her commitment to the T1D community

It has only been a few months since Rowena Chan started as Senior Vice-President of Sun Life Distributors, and she has already decided to step into the role of Honorary Chair for the Sun Life Walk to Cure Diabetes for JDRF.

Our Honorary Chair plays a vital role in driving the overall success of our signature walk event. This exceptional corporate leader inspires their organization to form teams and walk in the largest diabetes fundraising event in Canada.

 “It’s incredibly humbling to be at the forefront of this dynamic movement, rallying our employees to come together to help defeat this disease,” says Rowena.

This is the sixth year that Sun Life has been a proud partner of the Walk, and their second year as the National Title sponsor. Rowena’s engagement as the Walk’s Honorary Chair continues to solidify their strong commitment to JDRF’s mission and to the fight against diabetes as part of their overall purpose of helping clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives. “Teaming up with JDRF is a natural fit for Sun Life. We want to help accelerate research breakthroughs to help alter the course of this disease and potentially find a cure,” says Rowena.

As Chair, Rowena will rally Canadians as well as Sun Life employees, advisors and clients to help raise awareness and critical funds for type 1 diabetes. “So much has been accomplished in recent years; we need everyone’s help to continue this momentum,” Rowena says. “I’ll be at the Toronto Walk on June 9. Register now and join me in the fight against diabetes either in Toronto or at one of the local Walks happening across the country. Together, we can move the dial on diabetes research and care.”

At JDRF we look forward to working with Rowena and Sun Life to raise these vital funds, and hope you will join us too.

To find your local Walk event, click here.

Type 1 diabetes in college: Avoiding burnout

Evelyn Riddell vividly remembers the year she began university as a happy and hopeful student embarking on the first step towards her future career.

However, adjusting to university life was difficult. Evelyn, who lives with type 1 diabetes (T1D), suffered from burnout, which affected many aspects of her life.

“I realized that I wasn’t putting as much time into my self-management as I could have,” she recalls.  “T1D takes a lot of effort, but I understood why. When I allowed my blood sugars to remain out of range, all other aspects of my life were affected. My studies and my social life. I was losing out on experiences and couldn’t enjoy the moment.”

Although Evelyn did not have to be hospitalized, she knew she had to make changes to her lifestyle. Diagnosed at the age of 12, Evelyn was already well-versed in the daily management of T1D. However, exam season added much anxiety and often caused fluctuations in her blood sugar levels. That’s when she started to notice that it was affecting her exam performance.

“I have a heightened fear of having a low (blood sugar) during class,” Evelyn states. “Given the day-to-day schedule changes at school, I have to find a routine for basal insulin that works and eat at a certain time since everything will impact my blood sugar.”

Gradually, the realization set in that self-advocacy would be her best defence in ensuring a smooth process at school.

“Universities have Accessibility offices, which offer many resources for students, so I went to discuss my situation with them,” Evelyn recounts. “We worked together to create a plan personal to my T1D. I have such accommodations as only writing one exam per day. I am also allowed to take breaks during the exam and will get that time back at the end. It takes away the stress of treating a low blood sugar that makes me lose writing time. Now that I have more control over my T1D during exams I find that I do much better academically.”

According to Evelyn, people living with T1D can especially benefit from coping mechanisms for stress.

“T1D is 24/7 and we don’t get a break,” she says candidly. “But I have learned that it is 100% worth it. When you prioritize your health, it creates a domino effect which positively impacts other areas of your life. For example, you will be performing at your best academically.”

Evelyn is one of the founding members of the University’s College Diabetes Network Chapter, which helps to raise awareness of the challenges related to T1D on campus.

“It is extremely important that you tell your peers about your T1D, so they can be there to help you,” she says. “Be open with your friends, and teach them about T1D. Having someone who can spot a low blood sugar, or who can be there to listen is a great way to help relieve stress.”

Evelyn is currently in her third year of university. She credits T1D for teaching her a lot about herself and shaping her into the woman she is today.

“T1D has given me a hyper-awareness of my body, which is pretty special because I understand exactly what it’s feeling,” she says. “It also gave me a strong sense of resiliency, as well as time management and many other skills which come in handy for school. Recognizing what I go through and realizing that everyone has something they are struggling with has also made me more empathetic.”

Over the years, Evelyn has become involved with JDRF, participating in its annual Walk and Ride, and serving as a spokesperson for the organization. She was also hired as JDRF’s marketing and communications intern last summer.

“It was my first real ‘grown-up’ job in an industry I wanted to work in,” she relates. “The position offered roles and responsibilities that were challenging, and all related to finding a cure for T1D. It was truly a powerful experience to collaborate with people who shared a common goal, and one so close to my heart.”

Since Evelyn’s experience with burnout, she has adopted a different outlook on living with a chronic illness.

“Health is always a priority,” says the 20-year-old. “Resources are available to help you, but you have to be your own advocate. And if you let it, T1D can be your personal superpower.

You are JDRF Conference: A tribute to community and research

From left to right: Dr. Rémi Rabasa-Lhoret, Dr. Philip Toleikis, Dr. Mark Poznansky, Dr. Kathy McCoy and JDRF Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Sarah Linklater

Earlier this month, JDRF celebrated a year of tremendous achievements and welcomed prominent scientists in the field to discuss their work at its You are JDRF Conference.

Held at Toronto’s BMO Institute of Learning from April 30-May 1, the annual event showcased revolutionary advances in type 1 diabetes (T1D) research and paid tribute to JDRF volunteers, staff and partners who helped make these successes possible. It also shared expert strategies on how to improve fundraising capacity throughout the organization to further its mission to find a cure.

“Thanks to the generous support we received, 2018 was a remarkable year for JDRF,” says Dave Prowten, President and CEO.  “Not only were we able to fund cutting-edge research that is paving the way to novel treatments, but we also made important inroads to improve access and affordability to technology for all Canadians living with T1D.”

Among the key research highlights of the conference were:

How does your gut microbiome affect development/progression of T1D?

Kathy McCoy, University of Alberta

Dr. Kathy McCoy is interested in the dynamic interplay between the gut microbiota and our immune systems. Her research aims to understand how exposure to intestinal microbes, particularly during early life, educates and regulates the immune system and how this can affect susceptibility to diseases, such as allergy, autoimmunity and autism.

Dr. McCoy’s lab also investigates how the microbiome regulates the immune system throughout life with the goal of identifying microbial therapies for the prevention or delay of type 1 diabetes onset in susceptible individuals.

Development of a new technology to enable transplantation of human stem cell-derived beta cells without immune suppression 

Mark Poznansky, Massachusetts General Hospital

Dr. Mark Poznansky founded the MGH Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center (VIC) 10 years ago with the mission to accelerate the development of broadly applicable, safe and cost-effective vaccines and immunotherapies for cancer, infectious diseases and type 1 diabetes. The use of cellular therapies to provide dynamic insulin replacement in people with T1D is one of VIC’s focuses.

As active members of the JDRF Beta Cell Replacement Consortium, Dr. Poznansky and his team have contributed significantly to the development of encapsulation therapy. With support from JDRF, they continue to explore and optimize using CXCL12, which is naturally secreted by our immune system to protect implanted beta cells against inflammation and immune attack in encapsulation systems without the use of immunosuppressive drugs.

Using new therapies and interactive technologies to reduce hypoglycemic risk

Dr. Rémi Rabasa-Lhoret, Montreal Clinical Research Institute

Dr. Rémi Rabasa-Lhoret is an endocrinologist best known for his work on the artificial pancreas. He is  collaborating on the development of a province-wide registry of people with type 1 diabetes in Quebec that will enable clinical trials aimed at measuring the impact of new therapies and cost-effective technologies to reduce the risk of hypoglycemia.

Known as the BETTER project (Behaviors, Therapies, Technologies and Hypoglycemia Risk in Type 1 Diabetes), the study will track the incidence of hypoglycemic episodes among patients and employ innovative therapies, such as the use of an online platform that provides educational resources and support tested by registered participants. Dr. Rabasa-Lhoret and his team hope to identify successful measures that can be implemented into the daily care of patients to improve overall blood control, thereby decreasing the risk and burden of hypoglycemia. One of the goals will be to expand this approach to other health care systems to leverage their findings.

For highlights from the You are JDRF Conference, check out our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Exploring the link between type 1 diabetes and depression



Young people living with a chronic illness like type 1 diabetes (T1D) often experience anxiety which – if not treated – can quickly spiral downwards into depression. However, the link between diabetes and depression remains poorly understood and under-researched. Depression is often viewed as a natural outcome of “diabetes distress” – the emotional burden of living with the disease.

Dr. Patricia Pelufo Silveira, a Montreal-based researcher at McGill University and The Douglas Research Centre, is challenging this assumption. Her research examines the heightened risk of diabetes-linked depression, its impact on the development of mental-health resiliency among youth, and the possibility of a shared origin story – specifically the role of insulin function in the brain and increased risk for depression.

Dr. Silveira is exploring which combinations of factors may increase our risk for developing chronic diseases and mental illnesses, both the ones we inherit (genetic) and the environmental (epigenetic) ones we are exposed to in the womb and early childhood, specifically, those that increase exposure to excessive stress hormones and blood-sugar levels, among others.


 “Adolescents with T1D are learning to manage their condition, while also adapting to puberty, peer group pressure, autonomy from their parents and identity formation,” explains Dr. Silveira. “This can create psychological distress that negatively affects their blood sugar levels and their self-care.”

Indeed, metabolic abnormalities are associated with a high risk of depression in youth living with T1D. For example, T1D is considered an underlying contributor to dyslipidemia, a condition in which abnormally high levels of lipids are found in an individual’s blood, which may also be linked to the higher incidence of depression.

For those living with T1D, mental health needs to be taken as serious as physical health. The prevalence of major depressive disorder (MDD) symptoms among people with diabetes is approximately 10 percent – double the prevalence in individuals without a chronic illness, and increases the longer a person has diabetes.

According to Dr. Silveira, young people with T1D should have routine screening for psychological issues and regular assessments following their diagnosis. The early investigation of depression-like symptoms would not only encourage them to maintain their self-care, but also translate into significant cost-savings to the health sector. As well, regular visits with trained psychologists in the field would help reduce the likelihood of diabetes-related complications and possibly prevent suicidal incidents in the long term.

JDRF youth ambassador sets out to change the future of type 1 diabetes

He has met with ministers, senators and members of Parliament to share his story about his diagnosis of type 1 diabetes (T1D). He has advocated for policy change for access to affordable insulin for all Canadians with T1D. He has served as a spokesperson at fundraising events and schools to discuss the triumphs and struggles of a teen living with T1D.

Meet Noah Silvaggio, an ambitious 16-year-old JDRF youth ambassador who was voted one of Manitoba’s Top 40 Young People to Watch in 2018 in the category of community activism and social affairs.

Five years ago, Noah was preparing for 7th grade when he began to experience flu-like symptoms. His breathing became laboured and by the time he reached the hospital, his kidneys had begun to shut down. Noah then received some shocking news: he had T1D.

“I remained at the hospital for five days to learn about T1D and how to manage it,” he recalls. “It was a learning curve for all (my family) to adjust to my new normal.”

Following his diagnosis, Noah was invited to give a speech hosted by DER-CA (Diabetes Education Resource for Children and Adolescents) at the Children’s Hospital HSC Winnipeg, which offers specialty services to children and youth under the age of 18 with T1D or type 2 diabetes. It was during this period that he began to volunteer at JDRF, enrolled in the Walk and Ride, and signed up to be a youth ambassador. Not only did Noah serve as a guest speaker at the 30th anniversary of JDRF’s Starry Starry Night Gala – the largest audience before which he had ever spoken – but he also had the opportunity to attend Kids for a Cure Lobby Day (2018) in Ottawa.

“It was an amazing experience,” he says. “I met government officials and really emphasized that in Canada we shouldn’t have to choose between buying insulin and buying food.”

To date, Noah continues to lobby the Manitoba Legislature for insulin pump coverage for all Manitobans with T1D. He writes letters, meets with public servants and participates in local advocacy initiatives to raise awareness. The young activist has also donated $30,000 to JDRF through fundraising and the sale of his art (animal sketches) and jewelry made by his sister.

Noah was the recipient of the Boston Pizza Youth Ambassador of the Year award in 2018. When he isn’t out in the community trying to make a difference, he devotes time to mentoring youth with T1D.

“I like helping others and telling them they can do anything they did before their diagnosis – that it just requires planning, patience and support,” he says.

Noah currently uses an insulin pump, along with a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device. An active teenager who enjoys hockey, soccer, snowboarding and Spartan races, he has grown accustomed to checking his sugar levels during sports. Although his condition is more stable now and carb counting has become a way of life, he is hopeful that a cure for T1D will be found one day soon.

“A cure would mean freedom from constant worrying and being 100% in my game without thinking of T1D first,” Noah says candidly. “My Mom could finally sleep the night without checking in on me.”

Implant of differentiated pluripotent stem cells to treat diabetes

Dr. Timothy Kieffer, a JDRF-funded investigator and professor in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences and the Department of Surgery at the University of British Columbia, has been awarded a new two-year grant to continue his research involving insulin-producing cells as a potential cure for type 1 diabetes (T1D). This award is building off the breakthrough improvements established by the Edmonton Protocol, which demonstrated a quick and effective procedure to transplant insulin-producing islets into a recipient, and reduce or eliminate the need for injections.

Over the past several years, there have been remarkable advances in unraveling the process by which beta cells develop. This has led to the replication of many steps in the laboratory using cultured stem cells culminating in insulin-producing cells. There is growing evidence from many different academic and industry groups around the world that pluripotent stem cells represent a promising source for the derivation of unlimited quantities of insulin-producing cells to treat diabetes. To date, Dr. Kieffer and his team have successfully cultivated islet cells that have been able to reverse diabetes when transplanted into mice. Current clinical trials have been testing these cultured stem cells using encapsulated devices that are implanted under the skin.

One of the greatest challenges researchers face in this field is the design of a device that permits a sufficient supply of oxygen and nutrients to promote cell survival and function. As a result, Dr. Kieffer is assessing the feasibility of treating diabetes when cells are implanted directly under the skin, muscle or into the liver without the use of a device, employing the same practice as that used in the Edmonton Protocol.

This project will involve two different animal models to identify a practical and clinically viable procedure that will treat diabetes with insulin-producing cells derived from stem cells, thereby laying the groundwork for a new clinical trial for patients with T1D.

The impact of Dr. Kieffer’s research on the T1D community will be profound. With the successful implantation of stem cell-derived insulin-producing cells into a person living with T1D, this potential therapy can possibly eliminate the need for insulin injections and constant monitoring of a patient’s condition.

Clinical trials of islet and stem cell therapies for type 1 diabetes

Clinical islet transplantation is viewed as a viable treatment that has the potential to eliminate a life-long dependence on insulin in individuals with type 1 diabetes (T1D). However, given the challenges of autoimmunity in islet transplantation, powerful immunosuppression therapies are currently required to prevent acute and long-term graft rejection.

Despite the immunosuppression treatments used in Dr. Shapiro’s islet transplantation program in Edmonton, the majority of research subjects still require two or more islet transplants to achieve insulin independence. The current immunotherapy regime consists of a combination of induction, anti-inflammatory and maintenance therapies, which have contributed to higher success rates in islet transplantations; however, the development of a life-long, high-dose immunosuppression therapy is still needed to limit side effects and promote beta cell insulin production.

In his new $1.5M JDRF-funded research project, Dr. Shapiro aims to address the most significant key gaps in beta cell replacement therapies.

His research will focus on:

1.         Optimizing the Stem Cell Source: Investigators have yet to determine which stage of stem cell differentiation will generate the most functional beta cells after transplantation in humans;

2.         Cell Protection: Dr. Shapiro will test the safety and efficacy of regulatory T cell infusions to preserve beta cell survival and function in humans, with much less need for anti-rejection drugs; and

3.         Accelerating Clinical Translation: While human trials will be developed for islet transplantation with the standard use of immunosuppression, they will provide valuable clinical information regarding the safety and effectiveness of these novel treatments that can be implemented in future cell replacement therapies.

Dr. Shapiro’s study has the capacity to transform T1D research in Canada and around the world. By optimizing the stem cell source, validating strategies to protect cells from the immune system after transplant and accelerating clinical translation, we will certainly move closer to promising discoveries that will cure T1D and improve the lives of countless Canadians.

Regulatory T cells (Tregs) and their function in T1D

Dr. Anne Maria Pesenacker, a JDRF-funded investigator at the University of British Columbia and now at UCL’s Institute of Immunity and Transplantation, is examining how regulatory T cells (Tregs) function in health and how best to monitor their fitness.

Tregs are a specialized type of white blood cell that prevent immune cells from attacking the body. When they stop functioning, autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes (T1D) can occur. In T1D, Tregs fail and effector T cells attack and destroy the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas resulting in a loss of blood sugar control, as well as a lifelong dependence on insulin injections.

Dr. Pesenacker’s initial research used a test to observe Treg health in ustekinumab (a manufactured human antibody against naturally occurring proteins that affect the immune system and immune-mediated inflammatory disorders) therapy. She performed Treg gene signature measures on the samples collected from the ustekinumab phase I/II trial and developed an algorithm to predict which patients had a rapid versus a slow decline in response to treatment. More recently, she optimized a way of employing a gene modification technology called CRISPR for the engineering of primary human cells in order to study the function of specific integral proteins involved in cell signalling in health and T1D.

The development of this Treg gene signature marks a major achievement in research and could be a step towards a robust biomarker of immune status in T1D. Testing this biomarker across multiple future clinical studies may also lead to the advancement of universal algorithms that could be applied to identify rapid vs slow decliners, monitor T1D over time, and/or select individuals likely to respond to immunotherapy.

One of two promising researchers to receive an Eli Lilly Canada post-doctoral fellowship grant from the JDRF Canadian Clinical Trial Network (JDRF CCTN) in 2017, Dr. Pesenacker has learned how to establish and run translational immunology studies under the mentorship of Dr. Megan Levings and by working closely with key clinical trial personnel at BC Diabetes, the Immune Tolerance Network and the CCTN. In 2018, Dr. Pesenacker was awarded a career development fellowship from Versus Arthritis and moved to the UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation (London, UK) to expand her research, develop her independent research programme and become well-versed in translating research findings into clinical trials.

JDRF is proud to support a talented young investigator like Dr. Pesenacker.

First European clinical trial in human stem cell therapy for type 1 diabetes is underway

The development of encapsulation technologies to treat insulin-dependent diabetes has been at the forefront of type 1 diabetes (T1D) research in North America for many years. This is because new methods of cell delivery may offer a functional cure for people with T1D at high risk for life-threating complications.

Recently, the Center for Beta Cell Therapy in Diabetes, coordinator of an international consortium in translational medicine in diabetes, and ViaCyte Inc., a privately held regenerative medicine company, collaborated on their first European clinical trial involving human stem cell-derived implants among T1D patients.

Performed at UZ Brussel, the University Hospital of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), the pilot project saw participants receive ViaCyte’s product candidate, PEC‐Direct™, which delivers pancreatic cells in a device to individuals with severe hypoglycemic episodes, extreme changes in their glucose levels, and/or hypoglycemia unawareness. Upon maturation, these cells are designed to secrete insulin and other pancreatic hormones in response to blood glucose levels. The device not only replaces lost insulin-producing beta cells but also restores blood sugar control for T1D patients who are eligible for beta cell replacement therapy.

This work complements the clinical evaluation of PEC-Direct™ currently underway in North America. During the first phase of the European trial, implants will be evaluated for their ability to form beta (insulin-producing) cells; the second phase will examine their capacity to produce systemic levels of insulin that establish glucose control. The implantation in these first European patients is a major step in the development of cell therapies with the potential to cure T1D.

This trial, along with preclinical trials, was carried out by the Beta Cell Therapy Consortium with the support of a Horizon 2020 grant from the European Commission. The consortium is composed of clinical, industrial, and research teams at VUB, ViaCyte, San Raffaele Hospital Diabetes Research Institute in Milan, Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences in Lausanne, the University Medical Center in Leiden, and Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Epinière in Paris.

For more informative articles on health and type 1 diabetes, visit our JDRF Blog.

How to raise money for Walk using social media

By: Justin Kozuch, Digital Marketing Communications Specialist, JDRF Canada


It goes without saying that social media has become the way we share snippets of our lives. Not only has it revolutionized how we get a glimpse into those of our friends and family, but it has radically changed how we learn about the world around us, how we engage with government and how we unite to make our planet a better place to live.

I’ve been a long-time advocate for using social media within an organization and I firmly believe these platforms are well-suited for raising awareness about important issues, rallying around a particular cause and creating opportunities to drive change—a key part of my role here at JDRF Canada.

Inspired in part by some of the amazing content I’ve seen posted on social media by our fans, I wanted to share some of my knowledge and inspire you with a few easy-to-execute ideas that I hope will help you meet your fundraising goals.


Tell a Story

Storytelling is an act as old as time. For thousands of years, our ancestors told stories and passed down knowledge about how to hunt for food, build tools and make clothing. No matter where we’re from, the language we speak or what our background is, stories are something we all understand. They’re part of our DNA.

The most effective storytelling happens when we tap into the emotions of our audience. Stories that highlight a personal struggle, something we’re passionate about, a cause or ideal that we believe in, or something that inspires us to stand up and speak out is the type that will encourage others to rally around you and support your mission – like this one from Abby:

Think about the kinds of stories you’ve heard: the kind that inspired you, moved you, or have given you cause to think about the impact you have on the world—and write your own.

Social Media Tip #1: Use Instagram Stories to share one on the importance of funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research and how it plays a role in finding a cure for the disease, similar to what Rina did here.


Nominate a Friend

It would be difficult to argue that the Ice Bucket Challenge was a smashing success. But why did it work? It comes down to one simple factor: It was easy. It was an act that could be easily replicated, easily shared and did not cost much money. Layer in social media and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Social Media Tip #2: Take on a 24-hour challenge and upon completion, nominate three friends to participate like our Central Canada Regional Director, Shannon Carkner, did here.


Be Your Own News Outlet

Just because your name isn’t Tom Brokaw (unless it is), doesn’t mean you can’t interview a politician and ask them to support legislation that increases funding for those living with T1D or talk about the importance of medical devices such as CGM’s:

The great thing about social media is that we all have a voice and that our individual voices matter—and that your voice can make a difference.

Social Media Tip #3: Use Instagram to answer questions about what life is like living with T1D like Max did on World Diabetes Day.


Incentivize Giving

Kickstarter perfected this model by providing the visionaries behind creative projects with the tools to give supporters various incentives in exchange for financial support of their projects.

To inspire people to donate to your Walk team, give away incentives or hold a contest to encourage donations. For example, you could ask for a $100 donation and in exchange, offer to babysit while they go out for a date night or to watch playoff hockey at a local sports bar.

Social Media Tip #4: Hold a 48-hour donation drive and for every donation received at/or above a certain limit, commit to doing something for a donor, like mowing their lawn or raking their leaves.


Highlight Milestones

Milestones are a great way to show progress, share your goals or even readjust them if you’re successful. We’ve seen excellent results when we’ve talked about our organization’s fundraising goals and successes.

Social Media Tip #5: Tell people when you’ve reached your fundraising goal. If there’s still time left over until Walk day, go double or nothing and increase your fundraising limit, like our friend Alyscia did last summer.


Some additional tips:

  • Include the link to your fundraising page in your posts and make it easy to find. Put it in the bio section of your social media profile and if you use email regularly, add it to your email signature.
  • Use hashtags to help others find your content, gain additional followers and be part of the conversation—especially on Twitter and Instagram.
  • Mix up your content by using images and video to keep things interesting and engaging.
  • Tag us (JDRF Canada on Facebook and @jdrf_canada on Twitter and Instagram) in your fundraising posts on social media—and make sure to add the #SunLifeWalk #JDRFWalk hashtags so that we can see your post.
  • Don’t forget to say thank you to your donors!


Have you come across a great fundraising idea? How are you using social media to raise money for T1D research? Tell us on our Facebook page, tweet at us or send us a message on Instagram—we’d love to hear what’s working for you!