UCSD team receives $9 million grant for diabetes research

SAN DIEGO  — UC San Diego announced Tuesday it received roughly $9 million in grants for a pair of research projects that will attempt to identify the cellular actions that lead to the development of Type 1 Diabetes.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded grants of $3.8 million and $5.1 million to the projects that will study pancreatic beta cells, which produce insulin and lead to the development of diabetes when damaged.

A research team led by Dr. Maike Sander and Kyle Gaulton, two professors in the UCSD School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, will use the $3.8 million grant to analyze the genes associated with elevated genetic risk for Type 1 Diabetes and beta-cell functions by using a “reference map” of pancreatic cells.

The research team will then use CRISPR gene editing to determine which genes lead to cell survival or death and test that information on a pancreatic organoid, which is being developed with the $5.1 million grant from stem cells from people with type 1 diabetes.

“We are using technology that, for the first time, allows us to create human conditions that mimic Type 1 Diabetes in a culture dish in order to understand the mechanism or genes by which beta cells are killed,” Sander said. “Our hope is that we can generate the information we need to eventually make beta cells survive in people living with type 1 diabetes.”

According to the research team, people with type 1 diabetes may still have beta cells remaining, just reduced in numbers. Identifying ways to improve beta-cell survival could eventually lead to improved therapeutic treatment for the disease.

“We will activate and deactivate genes we think are involved in whether beta cells live or die,” Sander said. “We want to know what causes the attack on beta cells because no one has been able to identify it.”

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