The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) has awarded more than £3million to fund a research centre that will investigate the causes of type 1 diabetes – a condition that results from an immune attack on the body’s insulin producing cells.

The study, known as the JDRF Centre for Diabetes Genes, Autoimmunity and Prevention (D-GAP), aims to understand how and why type 1 diabetes occurs, knowledge that may help develop future therapies with the aim of preventing the condition.

D-GAP will bring together some of the UK’s leading type 1 diabetes researchers and over the next five years they will be focused on trying to unravel the connection between genes, immunity and type 1 diabetes. This collaboration is the result of type 1 diabetes experts, including Professors John Todd and Linda Wicker from the University of Cambridge, Professor Mark Peakman from King’s College London, and Professor Polly Bingley from the University of Bristol, coming together to discuss their work and results.

Recent research by Professor Todd has shown that the genetic profile of an individual determines whether they are at greater risk of developing type 1 diabetes, and that the genes identified operate within the immune system. These findings linked much of the research that was being carried out by Professors Peakman and Bingley. The next key stage in type 1 diabetes research is to make the link between those genes and the immune alterations. By coming together to create D-GAP, the researchers hope to speed up this process.

Researchers, led by Professor David Dunger at the University of Cambridge, will take genetic samples, via a simple blood or saliva test, from 4,000 volunteers across the UK made up of those who have type 1 diabetes, their relatives, and those from the general population. Once all the data is collected, researchers led by Todd, Peakman, Wicker and Bingley will begin a series of measurements on white blood cells. If a link between these measurements and the genes can be achieved, it will inform understanding of the disease process and pave the way for developments in the arena of drugs and therapies.

Karen Addington, Chief Executive of JDRF in the UK, said: “A key part of JDRF’s research is aimed at stopping or reversing the immune system response that causes type 1 diabetes and D-GAP could provide the answers needed to achieve that. If we are able to understand what causes type 1 diabetes, we will be another step closer to finding the cure.

“JDRF encourages collaborative research by creating and funding centres of excellence across the world, however this kind of research initiative is only possible where world leaders in their fields are brought together, and we’re lucky to have such scientific leaders based here in the UK.”

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