Dr. Sarah Linklater
Chief Scientific Officer at JDRF Canada
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease resulting in a lifelong dependency on insulin treatment and a risk of serious long-term complications. The cause of the disease is unclear, although both genes and factors in the environment seem to be important. As new cases of this burdensome and costly disease are on the rise in almost every country around the world, finding ways to prevent and better treat type 1 diabetes are top research priorities.
In the past decade, research has shown that changes in the gut microbiome – the microbial community that colonizes the intestine – precede the onset of type 1 diabetes in young children. Most of these studies highlight a potential link in the first years of life when the microbiome is highly dynamic and heavily influenced by environmental factors such as mode of birth delivery, diet, infections, and antibiotic use. JDRF and other funders have invested heavily in this area, supporting studies such as the DIABIMMUNE Study, BABYDIET, and TEDDY, which all helped to point researchers towards new therapeutic opportunities. In addition, for many years, JDRF led an international consortium that brought researchers working in this area together on a regular basis to share ideas, compare data, and accelerate progress.
The field is now focused on testing whether manipulation of the microbiome with drugs or diet can delay or even prevent the disease altogether. Other studies are attempting to figure out how changes in the gut microbiome could signal a person is at risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Jayne Danska, a professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine and a senior scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children, is working at the cutting edge of this field. In late 2019, she was awarded a $2 million CAD team grant from JDRF and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to advance her work studying the role of the gut microbiome in altering risk and progression of type 1 diabetes. She and her team previously showed that deliberate manipulations of the gut microbiome can inhibit autoimmune responses in an experimental model of type 1 diabetes. The new five-year project seeks to understand how environmental changes influence the gut microbiome in infants with genetic risk for type 1 diabetes. The team will attempt to define exactly what risk-associated microbes do inside a developing infant, and how they affect the immune response to either protect against or potentiate the disease. The ultimate objective of Dr. Danska’s work is to identify new therapeutics to prevent type 1 diabetes.
We are facing a moment in time that can forever change the landscape of type 1 diabetes research, with better treatments and cures on the horizon. JDRF is striving to speed up research progress in any way we can. We are constantly scouting for the best ideas, the brightest talent and the innovative project that will bring us the next real breakthrough.