Catriona Morrice of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JRDF) talked to the Scotsman this week about how Scotland could lead the field to cure type 1 diabetes.
The Foundation’s development manager cites bioscience expertise where Scottish institutions, scientists and charities are already working in support of this aim, but she believes Scotland’s role could be even bigger.
A child diagnosed at the age of five can need more than 19,000 insulin injections before his or her 18th birthday [incidentally, where does that put you? I’m in my 33rd year of diabetes] so there’s no doubt that a cure will be welcomed by us, if not by the insulin-production companies…
Morrice says the JDRF wants the Scottish Government to encourage an even greater focus on type 1 diabetes research. Scotland has among the world’s highest rates of incidence, and the JDRF has invested nearly £4 million in projects at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Across the international JDRF network, Morrice says, the organisation is delivering ground-breaking work. There are three areas of work which are of particular importance – encapsulation, immunotherapy and medicinal foods. The encapsulation research being carried out in the US is looking at ways to implant insulin-producing cells in the body while protecting them from the immune system. The basic idea is that they are wrapped in a protective coating and can do the same job as the ones in a healthy pancreas.
Immunotherapy works to alter what the immune system does, retraining it to no longer attack cells such as the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. In Boston, a research team is working on a technique which will ‘hijack’ red blood cells, attaching insulin fragments to them. These blood cells travel quickly through the body and don’t cause an immune response themselves, as the individual produces them.
Food as Medicine
Then, there are medicinal foods. JDRF-funded research in Australia has shown that types of bacteria in our gut can have an impact on overall health. This has opened up debate about food could be used as medicine, helping to treat or prevent type 1 diabetes without harmful drugs.
But Scotland has something almost every other country doesn’t, Morrice adds – a database of people with type 1 diabetes that allows collaboration with families affected by type 1 diabetes who want to join clinical trials. Called the Scottish Care Information – Diabetes Collaboration, Morrice says it’s a vital resource for research scientists and the Foundation’s “overwhelming wish” is for Scotland to take the lead role in type 1 diabetes research.