Celebrating the women accelerating research progress in T1D this International Women’s Day

Wednesday, March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD asks us to imagine a world that knows gender equity. Globally, we are facing multiple crises that are putting immense pressure on communities, and so achieving gender equality is more vital than ever. Ensuring women’s and girls’ rights across all aspects of life is the only way to secure prosperous and just economies, and a healthy planet for future generations.

The theme for 2024 is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress” and is a rallying cry to take joint action and #InvestInWomen to ensure women are not left behind.

This could not be a more appropriate theme for JDRF Canada, and we celebrate the achievements of the Canadian women researchers who are advancing the most promising research in type 1 diabetes (T1D), a field which has a long and rich history of women-led research leading to significant breakthroughs.

Today, JDRF Canada funding helps to support a number of women T1D researchers who are continuing the legacy of those who came before them and led the way, charting their own paths and investigating potential cures, mental health supports and improving lives for people living with T1D now.

Meet these women researchers who have been supported by JDRF Canada funding over the past year, and whose work is helping to improve the lives of people affected by T1D today, while getting us closer to cures tomorrow:

In partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), JDRF Canada awarded two Research Excellence, Diversity, and Independence (REDI) early career awards for Black people and racialized women scholars.
Dr. Yi-Chun Chen, University of British Columbia
Dr. Chen is a former JDRF postdoc whose career goal is to establish an independent research program focused on studying the adaptive responses of beta cells during the development of T1D, to inform the design of therapeutics to protect beta cells in T1D.

Dr. Hyekyoung (Cindy) Sung, York University
Dr. Sung’s career goal is to identify pathways important in T1D, characterize disease sub-types, and work on new precision medicine approaches for T1D. During this award, she will characterize the importance of a certain immune pathway in T1D and carry out preclinical studies to test drugs that target this pathway as a possible way to prevent or treat T1D.

J. Andrew McKee Fellowship in Type 1 Diabetes
Dr. Sing-Young Chen, JDRF Canada Centre of Excellence at UBC
Dr. Chen’s work focuses on understanding sex differences in beta-cell resilience to stresses associated with T1D. In type 1 diabetes, the insulin-secreting beta-cells are subject to many stresses – for example, they are attacked by the immune system and there is a high demand for insulin. Pancreatic islets from females are more resilient to these stresses than islets from males and can survive to keep making insulin. Dr. Chen’s research seeks to understand and leverage these sex differences with a view to develop cell therapies that will thrive in a T1D environment.

JDRF Canada Emerging Clinician Research Award
Dr. Alanna Weisman

The JDRF Canada Emerging Clinician Research Award (ECRA) is designed to provide crucial support to investigators who are building a career in T1D-related clinical investigation. These early career awards support the development of the awardee’s independent research program.

Dr. Alanna Weisman is a clinician-scientist and endocrinologist at the Lejdrf-adership Sinai Centre for Diabetes in Toronto, Ontario and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. Dr. Weisman’s research focuses on the use of diabetes technology (such as insulin pumps and continuous/flash glucose monitors) across Canada. Her primary focus is examining the rates of diabetes technology use among people from historically marginalized communities and identifying barriers to use that can be addressed.

Dr. Diane Wherrett – accelerating screening for T1D prevention.
Dr. Diane Wherrett is a pediatric endocrinologist at SickKids, and a Professor at the University of Toronto. In 2023 she was awarded a $12 million award from JDRF and CIHR to lead CanScreenT1D – the Canada-wide T1D Screening Research Consortium.

She is also the Centre Director for the Canadian arm of TrialNet, an NIH-funded international research network focused on screening for T1D and delivering clinical trials of disease-modifying therapies.

Dr. Shazhan Amed – improvng equitable outcomes for children with type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Shazhan Amed is a pediatric doctor who works at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. Her areas of care are children and youth with diabetes.

Her team is developing the CAnadian PediAtric diabetes ConsortIum (CAPACIty), a network of 15 childhood diabetes centers from across Canada, with the collaborative goal of developing a data registry that can be used to improve outcomes for all children with diabetes, particularly those from marginalized or lower-income communities.

Dr. Elizabeth Rideout is an associate professor at UBC. Dr. Rideout’s research investigates the effect of biological sex on metabolic genes and pathways. Her team will apply this work to T1D by examining how beta cell dysfunction differs between males and females during the progression of T1D. Her research will inform prevention and treatment strategies that account for the impact of biological sex.

Dr. Sonia Butalia is a clinician-scientist at the University of Calgary. Her JDRF-funded project focuses on the transition from pediatric to adult diabetes care, a particularly challenging time for many young people with T1D. Her team will implement a transition program across 5 sites in Alberta that uses non-medical transition coordinator and technology-based communications to improve the transition to adult care and associated mental health challenges.

Dr. Deborah Da Costa is an associate professor and psychologist at McGill University. She is leading a patient-oriented team to redesign a pregnancy and postpartum support program for people with T1D and T2D, and evaluate its impact on mental health outcomes, ultimately providing opportunities to improve quality of life for women with diabetes during an important life stage.

Dr. Holly Witteman is the Canada Research Chair in Human-Centred Digital Health and a professor at Université Laval. With an interdisciplinary background in human factors engineering and social sciences, she is developing CommuniT1D. This will be a virtual platform for peer information and connection in a small group format for people who have things in common. Holly has personally lived with T1D for over 40 years.

To read more about other JDRF-funded women researchers: www.jdrf.ca/research/meet-our-researchers/

JDRF Canada – an all-women research department.

Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Sarah Linklater, along with her team Dr. Lara Green, Dr. Anne Marie MacDonald and Katie Ryan, and use their science backgrounds and passion for research – that also may benefit other autoimmune diseases – to help JDRF select and accelerate the most promising T1D research in Canada.

Amanda Hailman oversees JDRF Canada’s Mental Health + Diabetes Strategy, which under her tenure, has overseen the launch of Diabetes + Mental Health Training Program for mental healthcare providers, the Diabetes + Mental Health Directory, a listing of these trained professionals, and the administration of community grants to support improved outcomes for people living with diabetes.

JDRF – A woman led organization

In late 2023 Jessica Diniz took on the role of President and CEO of JDRF Canada following the retirement of Dave Prowten. She ably stewards the organization by ensuring her staff are able to thrive and continue to support its mission of a world free from T1D.

In April 2023 Helena Gottschling was announced as Board Chair. Helena is committed to working with the Senior Leadership team and Board Directors to ensure JDRF Canada can deliver on our strategy, our mission, and our promise as an organization to our donors, supporters, staff and all Canadians affected by T1D, as we work towards a world free from type 1 diabetes.

JDRF Canada is proud as well to have both senior leadership and management teams that more than achieve gender parity, skewing heavily female. While acknowledging there is always more work to be done, the organization is proud to be living the IWD theme for 2024.

And JDRF Canada is so grateful to all the women who drive change, progress and change the realities of those living with T1D and for their efforts to bring us ever closer to our ultimate goal of cures for T1D.

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