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In December, the Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Research Network (T1DCRN) brought together leading national and international experts in type 1 diabetes in Sydney for the 2016 BRIdGE Symposium (Building Research Ideas across Geography and Expertise).

This year’s theme was innovation in autoimmunity and complications. A mix of high calibre clinicians, clinical researchers and basic researchers from areas such as immunology, genetics and paediatrics mingled and shared their novel ideas for accelerating research in type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Collaboration underpins the core of the T1DCRN, aiming to bring people together to share ideas and discuss new ways to approach T1D research. Collaborations have the purpose of supporting and accelerating clinical research outcomes through sharing knowledge, expertise and resources.

Professor Chantal Mathieu

Here’s just a snapshot of what each presenter shared on the day:

Professor Chantal Mathieu (pictured), Director of the Endocrinology Clinic at the University Hospital of Leuven in Belgium, discussed how beta cells are destroyed in T1D. She is investigating a new biochemical pathway – a particular protein released by beta cells that appears to provoke the immune system to begin the process of inflammation and destruction.

Professor Matthias Von Herrath, immunology researcher from La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in the US and Vice President and Head of NovoNordisk’s diabetes R&D Center, spoke about different ways of understanding T1D. This includes what we have learned from animals, from the human pancreas, and promising new therapies in T1D such as biomarkers. Summarising what we have learnt helps to identify gaps and promising pathways to pursue for future research.

Professor Marian Rewers, Professor of Paediatrics and Executive Director of the Barbara Davis Centre for Diabetes in the US, discussed the prevention of T1D. He leads on one of the world’s largest studies into the environmental factors that lead to T1D, and discussed a new screening method for autoantibodies that is able to identify autoimmunity earlier in life.

Dr Anselm Enders, leader of the Ramaciotti Immunisation Genomics Laboratory at ANU Australia discussed genomics as the future of medicine. His team is identifying mutations in genes involved in the immune system that may lead to reduced immune function. He also discussed personalising medicine according to each person’s unique genetic profile.

Dr Tim Tree, specialist in human immunology at King’s College London, also talked about personalising medicine and the importance of understanding the whole immune response in T1D. Tim has T1D himself, and emphasised the importance of researchers working together to piece together the mystery of the immune system.  This will help to accelerate our knowledge of how T1D occurs.

Professor David Harlan, Division Chief of Diabetes and Director of Diabetes Centre of Excellence at University of Massachusetts, discussed new technology that monitors glucose levels and automatically shares them with healthcare professionals (HCPs). A low result that is not treated results in a call from a HCP, to reduce life threatening events from hypos. He is also undertaking work, pioneered by Australian researcher Stuart Mannering, on hybrid insulin peptides.

Professor Assam El-Osta, Head of the Epigenetics in Human Health and Disease Laboratory at Baker IDI, is investigating how epigenetics may have a role in T1D progression. Epigenetics are changes that occur in our genes that aren’t inherited, but caused by interactions between the environment and genes. It is thought that these changes may cause genes to function differently which may lead to altered immune function in T1D.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Davis, Paediatric Endocrinologist and Deputy Head of the Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology at Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth, discussed the need for new food and exercise guidelines for people with T1D. Both are a normal part of everyday life but can lead cause delayed high or low glucose extremes. Strategies to counteract these extremes, determined by a T1DCRN funded clinical trial, will enable people with T1D to live more freely and improve glucose control.

Professor Peter Rossing, Head of Research and Chief Physician at Steno Diabetes Centre in Denmark, discussed innovative approaches to slow or prevent kidney complications of diabetes. This included biomarkers making it possible to predict risk of complications and progression.

Events such as this are important if we are to answer questions on what causes T1D and how we can accelerate progress towards better treatment options, prevention strategies, and ultimately, a cure for T1D.

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