Curing type 1 diabetes in six years is the new goal of Duarte, Calif., based City of Hope’s Diabetes and Metabolism Research Institute.
Through the generosity of the Wanek family and gifts from anonymous donors, the institution will be able to devote more than $50 million over the next six years to an innovative research effort that seeks to find a cure for type 1 diabetes. The family’s gift will establish the Wanek Family Project for Type 1 Diabetes at City of Hope.
City of Hope, which has a long history in diabetes, conducted research that led to the development of synthetic human insulin by Arthur D. Riggs, PhD, in 1978. Insulin is still used today by an estimated 1.5 million Americans with type 1 diabetes and 27 million with type 2 diabetes.
Funding for this transformative research is being led by a gift from the Wanek family, who founded and currently owns Ashley Furniture Industries. The project will create a series of highly focused programs based at City of Hope that will use an integrated approach to curing type 1 diabetes, including immunotherapy approaches, as well as research into beta cell transplantation and preventing the body from rejecting those insulin secreting cells.
“City of Hope is best positioned to take on this challenge,” said Robert W. Stone, president and CEO of City of Hope. “This is thanks to our 40-year institutional legacy of pioneering treatment and research advances in diabetes.
City of Hope’s goal to cure type 1 diabetes will focus on three core areas that are crucial in treating both types of diabetes:
Immune modulation – Research is already underway at City of Hope to unlock the immune system’s role in diabetes, including T cell modulation and stem cell-based therapies that may reverse the autoimmune attack on islet cells in the pancreas, which is the cause of type 1 diabetes. City of Hope’s Bart Roep, PhD, previously worked at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, where he was instrumental in launching a phase 1 clinical trial for a vaccine that aims to spur the immune system to fight, and possibly cure, type 1 diabets. Plans are developing for a larger, phase 2 trial to launch in the future at City of Hope.
Beta cell expansion and replacement – Type 1 and type 2 diabetes both develop due to the dysfunction and demise of insulin secreting beta cells. Researchers will work to improve methods of boosting and replacing beta cells, as well as imaging them, to encourage long-term survival, says Endocrine Society member Fouad R. Kandeel, MD, PhD, professor and chair, Department of Clinical Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism, chair, Department of Translational Research and Cellular Therapeutics; director, Islet Cell Transplant Program and associate director, Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute. The Wanek Family Project studies will derive new innovations to correct the beta cell dysfunction in diabetes.
Preventing diabetes complications – Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are associated with similar complications such as accelerated heart, kidney, neural, and eye diseases that greatly increase morbidity and mortality rates. Scientists will work on intervening at the genetic level to reverse complications and seeking ways to predict the development of complications in order to prevent them from occurring.
Along with Kandeel, City of Hope diabetes research faculty who will lead these efforts include: Endocrine Society member Rama Natarajan, PhD, National Business Products Industry Professor in Diabetes Research; professor and chair, Department of Diabetes Complications and Metabolism and member, Molecular and Cellular Biology of Cancer Program; Bart Roep, PhD, Chan Soon-Shiong Shapiro Distinguished Chair in Diabetes and professor and founding chair, Department of Diabetes Immunology, will lead the Wanek Family Project; Arthur D. Riggs, PhD, Samuel Rahbar Chair in Diabetes & Drug Discovery Research; director, Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute and director emeritus, Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope; Debbie C. Thurmond, PhD, Ruth B. & Robert K. Lanman Professor and founding chair, Department of Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology; and Defu Zeng, professor, Department of Diabetes Immunology and Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.