JDRF and CIHR Announce Recipients of New Grants to Accelerate Stem-Cell Based Therapies for Type 1 Diabetes

To mark November’s National Diabetes Awareness Month, JDRF is excited to announce a new investment of $6 million to support two Canadian research teams as part of the JDRF-CIHR Partnership to Defeat Diabetes to help accelerate development of stem cell-based therapies for type 1 diabetes (T1D).

These new studies make possible the reality of eliminating the need for insulin injections for those living with T1D.  There are more than 300,000 Canadians living with 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.

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

The two research teams are being led by Dr. Maria Cristina Nostro, Senior Scientist at the McEwen Stem Cell Institute at University Health Network and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, and Dr. Francis Lynn, Associate Professor with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia and an Investigator at BC Children’s Hospital. These 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. Teams 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 no longer rely on insulin therapy. 

Dr. Maria Cristina Nostro’s Research Team

Islet transplantation could help T1D patients regain control of blood sugar levels, making this an alternative to insulin injections as the only existing treatment. However – donor scarcity, poor islet survival after transplant, the need to optimize the transplant site and the need for life-long immunosuppressive treatment in order to prevent transplant rejection mean this treatment is only accessible to a handful of people with T1D.

Dr. Nostro’s team will leverage their expertise in stem cell biology, vascular biology, islet transplantation and beta cell biology to address these challenges and work to develop a safe and effective clinical-grade product for therapy.

The outcome from these studies will accelerate universal donor stem cell-based T1D therapies.

Dr. Francis Lynn’s Research Team

Dr. Francis Lynn and his team will also be working towards developing a cure for T1D by replacing insulin-producing cells via transplantation.

Advances made by these research teams could not only transform the lives of thousands of Canadians living with diabetes, but also greatly reduce the tremendous economic and health burden that diabetes places on Canada today. This research may also ultimately benefit people with insulin-requiring type 2 diabetes (~30% of cases), further broadening the potential impact.

JDRF Canada is proud to support these two teams, who will carry out exciting and ambitious cell replacement research. As we approach the centenary of the discovery of insulin, we remain committed to funding research that moves beyond insulin therapy, eventually providing people with T1D freedom from their disease. This announcement is an important step in that direction.

Dear Type 1™: What I want you to know

November 20, 2020

We invited people affected by type 1 diabetes (T1D) – children, parents and researchers – to share what they wish people knew about what it means to live with this disease. Read on to learn varying perspectives of how T1D affects members of the community every single day, and what they would say to T1D with these Dear Type 1 letters.

Myrzah, mother of Caleah

T1D has significantly changed my life as a parent. I constantly worry about the health of my daughter far more than before the diagnosis. I have more knowledge about the human body and nutrition values of food.

I feel I had to become T1D nurse overnight and become part of her support system. It is very important to have a good support system of family and friends.

People have the perception that after the diagnosis and consulting the medical team, T1D is under control. They don’t understand that it’s a daily task to maintain control. We need to accelerate the pace of T1D to give a better life quality to the people living with T1D and potentially avoid future diagnoses.

For me, a cure would mean that my daughter wouldn’t have to worry about her blood sugar levels 24h/7. She could be out with her friends without having to think about her level of activity and what she is eating etc. And of course, I would worry much less when she goes out with her friends.

My message to other parents of newly diagnosed T1D children is after the shock of the diagnosis and the overwhelming time of learning everything, it is important to accept that this condition is now part of your child’s life and family. Acceptance is key to keep going, especially on the days where we are completely discouraged.

Caleah, Diagnosed at age 8

Since my diagnosis, I have to constantly check my blood sugar levels, take note of what I eat and count carbs. I have to take care that I am not too high or too low. It is something I constantly have to take care of.

I want people to know that it’s not because I eat too much sugar or have poor health habits that I have T1D. On the contrary, we can’t prevent getting a T1D diagnosis. Our pancreas ceases to produce insulin.

Having better research and progress into T1D would facilitate our lives. And a cure would mean freedom and peace of mind. No more checking blood sugars, carb counting or worrying about my blood levels.

Having T1D does not prevent you from following your dreams. You can do whatever you want as long as you manage your T1D properly.

Fanny Guimont-Desrochers, PhD, SCYM, Immunology Research Scientist

Diagnosed at age 5

I was diagnosed with T1D when I was 5 years old. It immediately turned my life upside down. I had to prick my fingers and inject insulin multiple times a day. One could think that the injections were the worst part, but the management of the disease was way harder.

Living with T1D is like wondering at every moment of your life if your body will fail you, either because of low blood glucose level (which can cause coma if not treated), high blood glucose level or long term T1D-related complications (such as blindness, heart attack, kidney damage). This is also why I became a research scientist to help advance the cause of a T1D cure.

We need to accelerate the pace of T1D research because we are standing at a crossroads. Many promising innovations are close to becoming reality, and we need to make them available to all those who need it.

New fields of research are opening and hinting at promising potential therapies or cures that we never thought possible. Better treatments and even a cure for T1D have never been at a closer reach than they are today.

Recently, I had two safe pregnancies (without dangerous hypoglycemia) and perfectly healthy babies. Living with T1D is still a challenge I have had to live with every moment of every day for the past 30 years. That is why I am so committed to work with JDRF to cure diabetes

Helping JDRF find a cure for T1D will prevent kids other from losing their childhood. A 5-year-old kid should think about playing with his friends, not his next insulin injection. We have extremely talented scientists working on better treatments and cures. They need our help.

JDRF launches Beyond Insulin™

November 20, 2020

This exclusive group, created to provide stable funding to researchers, offers a first-time opportunity for donors to fund the research they believe in most. 

Beyond Insulin™ members who make a minimum 2-year pledged commitment of $500 or more, per year, will be the first to hear about new research and treatment trials and take part in a JDRF first: the opportunity to choose, as a group, which research to accelerate.

Research is what will change lives for those living with T1D, like David. At 33-years-old, David was diagnosed with T1D. Thanks to JDRF, he had the opportunity to immediately enrol in a JDRF-funded research trial: Dr. Jan Dutz was conducting a study to see if ustekinumab, a drug that is already approved to treat other chronic diseases including Crohn’s disease, might slow the progression of T1D in people with a new diagnosis. To David’s excitement and relief, the treatment worked.

For the first two years after his diagnosis, David didn’t use insulin. This was monumental, because it slowed the pace of his diabetes and gave him valuable time to adjust to living with T1D. But the drug didn’t cure David’s T1D. After two years, he required insulin and continues to use it to manage his condition.

In 2019, JDRF invested $8.1 million into T1D research in Canada, a 5% increase over 2018. Thirty seven cutting edge projects and clinical trials were supported in Canada. Globally, 180+ new research grants were awarded for the world’s most promising studies.

Research towards a cure is accelerating at incredible speed. While a lifesaving and lifechanging treatment, we recognize that there is a need to move beyond insulin. JDRF is proud to be at the forefront of this movement.

Please consider becoming a member of Beyond Insulin. Membership will allow us to push T1D research forward faster and help to change the lives of thousands affected by T1D.


Let’s Talk about type 1 diabetes!

November 10, 2020

This year hasn’t been easy. As we adapt to a new way of living and shift our means of interaction virtually, we wanted to make sure we were still able to provide you with the best updates in research, education and all-things type 1 diabetes (T1D). So we launched Let’s Talk T1D!

We’re bringing experts from across the country to you with a series of virtual educational events, and community hang outs in order to help you and your loved ones live well with T1D. We want to thank everyone who has attended our events these last few months, and let you know about some more we have in the coming weeks!

Connect with your community

On the fourth Wednesday of each month, please join us in a virtual conversation for Adults and Parents in the T1D community. Here, you’ll have the ability to interact with people who have similar, lived experiences with T1D, Grow relationships with your peers and understand the ever-changing demands of living with or being affected by T1D. Click here to join one of our upcoming events!

Healthy for the Holidays

With the Holiday season quickly approaching, it’s time to start thinking about shopping lists, holiday plans with friends and family members, and how to keep our children active during their time off from school, while adhering to the safety measures influenced by the global pandemic.  Join Social Worker and university instructor Michael Watts on December 8th to learn how to keep in check, and stay physically and mentally healthy during the winter season. 

January: Disability Tax Credit and RDSP

Do you have questions about the disability tax credit (DTC) and its impact on your finances? Did you know that you can get a grant of up to 300% with a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) and you can save money for your children? Attend our Talk T1D: Education Series: T1D and Crunching the Numbers to know more about the different plans and get answers to your financial questions. Link coming soon!

We understand how important it is to have the ability to engage with those who have similar lived experiences with T1D, while educating yourselves on the latest T1D updates – and now you can do all of that from the comfort of your own home! We can’t wait to see you at our next session.

2020 Kids for a Cure Home Edition Round Up

November 20, 2020

During the week of November 2nd, delegates joined JDRF for its annual Kids for a Cure Program. This year, due to COVID the event was held virtually.

Hear from some of this year’s participants:

Senator Nancy Hartling, Moncton, New Brunswick:

“Kids for a Cure was the highlight of my week. Talking to the kids and their parents and hearing their positivity gave me hope for the future and stirs me forward to keep the momentum going.

I have a personal connection to type 1 diabetes, my 8-year-old grandson who lives in BC has T1D. When I hear from the kids – I use the conversation in my speeches – it’s their voice that I want to bring forward to the government because hearing it in their words is so important.

JDRF has my commitment to write a letter to the government to support CIHR funding – our office will be doing that, and I intend to continue speaking about it.

Across the country, access to the devices that help people manage T1D is not equal and consistent. And when all families can’t access it equally – it can be a challenge to get what they need to manage their illness. It’s even more important during COVID, as this equipment can help to keep people out of the hospital.

I want to tell all the kids and JDRF to please keep up the good work. Thank you for connecting me, I have great respect for JDRF.

Youth Ambassador Co-Chair Anne Pettigrew

Age: 15

Age at Diagnosis: 11

Lives in: Etobicoke, ON

I’m a very strong-minded, take-action kind of person, and I’m used to working towards solutions to my problems in my everyday life and being able to handle most things independently. But I can’t solve the problem of having diabetes by myself. No amount of hard work or dreaming big will make that happen if it’s just me. I can’t cure type one diabetes myself, as much as I want to. But Kids for a Cure is my chance to work towards a cure with dozens of other advocates living with type one diabetes who want to get rid of type one just as much as I do. And in addition to working with the other delegates, we’re also all supported and propelled forward by JDRF. JDRF gives us the platform we need in order to have our voices heard by the right people – the people who control how much funding goes into type one diabetes research. Working with JDRF and the other delegates through Kids for a Cure gives me a chance to fight for a solution to one of the biggest, most dangerous, and most heartbreaking problems in my life. Kids for a Cure to me means a fighting chance at a better future, in a way that can actually yield results.

Doing Kids for a Cure virtually had pros and cons. It was organized flawlessly and gave us (the delegates and our families) many chances to connect and plan and prepare for our MP and Senator meetings. Additionally, doing it online meant we didn’t have to go all the way to Ottawa, so it kept our schedules freer and allowed each team of delegates to have more opportunities to meet with government officials. The only con for me was that I didn’t get to meet any of the other delegates in person.

During Kids for a Cure 2018, when we all stayed in the same hotel in Ottawa, we had an incredible opportunity to be surrounded by other type one diabetics – people who understand everything it takes to manage type one diabetes in a way that only other type one diabetes can really understand. It was very special and meaningful for me, especially because I don’t have any type one diabetics in my family or my immediate circle of friends. I don’t often get the opportunity to talk to other type ones, which is isolating for me. Doing Kids for a Cure virtually still gave delegates opportunities to connect, but there was something special about all of us being in the same room, talking and laughing and being physically all together, united by our experiences and our fight for a cure.

I hope that the JDRF-CIHR Partnership to Defeat Diabetes is renewed so that we can continue to have the funding that we so desperately need if we want to move closer to a cure to type one. I also hope that the government officials with whom we met will remember us, remember our stories, and remember type one diabetes. I hope they remember our dedication, our passion, and our drive, and how hard we’ve worked to get to where we are today. Type one diabetes takes so much – mentally, physically, and emotionally – to manage and live with. We work so hard every day just to keep ourselves going, at this point without even an end to look forward to. I hope they remember us. However, they decide to show their support for us, I want us to be remembered.”

Marie-France Lalonde, M.P. , Juvenile Diabetes Caucus Co-chair

“I would like to congratulate the JDRF and its delegates for their awareness campaign, Kids for a Cure, on juvenile diabetes. Not only was this campaign a great success with participants, it was also an opportunity for the JDRF to share its hard work in research to improve the quality of life for those living with juvenile diabetes.

The two main events of this campaign, November 2nd and 3rd, also provided an opportunity for youth delegates to engage us in meaningful interactive activities to share the reality of their condition.

This reminded me and my elected colleagues of the importance of the partnership between the government and JDRF in the fight to eradicate type 1 diabetes. I applaud the impact of such awareness campaigns. As Co-Chair of the All-Party Caucus on Juvenile Diabetes, it was a great pleasure and honor for me to participate and deliver a speech. JDRF and Canadians with juvenile diabetes can always count me to be an ally.”

Terri and Colby Ryan – Mother and son living with T1D

Age: 13

Age at diagnosis: 6

Lives in: St. Philips, NL

Terri: “This being my third time doing Kids for a Cure, it was sure different than the past.

I feel the whole atmosphere doing this in Ottawa was always amazing, and the interactions between the candidates were the best part, they got to be with so many others from all across Canada, this is where Colby and I both made amazing friends.

As for this years’ virtual Kids for a Cure, it was amazing in different ways, I believe that we had way more meetings than if we were in Ottawa, and we had great success with all our attendees making it to the meetings and I feel that we had their undivided attention. I love them interacting with the kids and asking them questions. It was a little tougher as for the internet and technology aspect but it always worked out.

While I loved all experiences we have had, I feel the better experience was the personal one in Ottawa, but as for the aspect of the MP and Senators I think they took more away from the meetings this year.

I would love to be able to do this again, it is both Colby and I passion to raise awareness.”

Colby: “First off, I have to thank everyone at JDRF for all the hard work that they do, especially to make things like kids for a cure possible. This is my third year and my favourite of all the JDRF events because we get to share our story with the people who can make a huge impact on Type1 and help us we hope find a cure.

I love chatting with the Members and I love how every time we meet with them they are always so amazed and they always seem to realize that this is a disease that affects all ages and that it is something they can get behind to make a real difference.

This year was a little different while I did seem to have a lot more meetings than before, it was kind of sad that it wasn’t that personal one on one meeting, face to face that I feel was a better impact and as well to be in the room with so many others and to meet all the delegates from across Canada is way better, sadly these times and the new way of life didn’t allow this. In the meetings virtually I do believe that there may have been more attention to the important topics and less off topic subjects, to have the scrapbooks online for them to follow as well was a huge help.

I am happy to have gotten the chance to speak to so many members and to hear them all say they will support us and they believe that it is something they will move forward with was good, and to know that by us doing this can make a lot of needed changes is also the part I like. I hope that I will get to do more things for JDRF and I want to be able to say I was a part of finding the cure.

I have been a Type1 for 7 years and from my first JDRF event I knew it was where I wanted to put my support, to know that there is a organization determined to help me and so many others living with Type1 and giving me so much hope for a cure, it was where I belonged.

It is fun to meet so many others through JDRF that live with Type1 and to know that all across Canada and the world there is so many like me struggling everyday with the same issues is a comfort.

I will always support JDRF in any capacity that will allow, and I will always encourage others to do the same. I believe that with all of us fighting the fight and JDRF on our side we will find a cure.”

Jo and Tilly Stimpson – mother and daughter living with T1D

Age: 12

Age at diagnosis: 2

Lives in: Peterborough, ON

Tilly would like to say: “I LOVE ‘Kids for a Cure’. It’s such an amazing experience to be part of. Meeting and connecting with other kids with Type 1 who also want to make a difference is my highlight. Advocating is a passion of mine and being able to be in front of MPs, Senators and other key decision makers is a privileged situation to be in. I’m thankful to JDRF for giving me this opportunity and for their ongoing support to the Type 1 community.”

Aly and Hartley Halvorson – Mother and daughter living with T1D

Age: 4

Age at diagnosis: 2

Lives in: Regina, SK

I really felt that it was so important for each MP to hear the stories of these amazing T1D’s warriors but also the stories of the parents who care for them. The MPs that we spoke with were all very much in support of what we were asking and again it gave us hope that soon there will be a cure for this disease, hopefully in Hartley’s lifetime.

The virtual event was a huge success in my opinion. There was very little technical issues and everything was laid out on how we wanted each meeting to unfold. The only change I would have made is to be with all of the wonderful delegates in Ottawa. Fingers crossed it will happen next year.

Thank you again for all you do and if there’s anything else you need we are an open door for you.”