February 18, 2016

The Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) is proud to support ground-breaking diabetes research by Dr. Pere Santamaria, which led to the development of a new type of medicine that restores normal blood glucose levels in type 1 diabetes and reverses the effects of other autoimmune diseases. The results of this research have recently been published in Nature, a top-ranked science journal.

In autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes, white blood cells in the immune system mistakenly attack healthy cells in the body instead of focusing on germs, viruses, and other foreign cells. Dr. Santamaria’s research focused on trying to find a way to understand and correct this misfiring of the immune system.

With funding from the CDA and other sources, Dr. Santamaria and his team discovered how to turn disease-causing white blood cells into disease-suppressing ones (also called T- and B-regulatory cells). The existence of these cells was previously known to science, but not that they could be derived from disease-causing white blood cells.

Dr. Santamaria discovered this by studying the response of type 1 diabetes-causing white blood cells to a new class of medicines developed in his laboratory and, in turn, came up with the medicines to accomplish this remarkable feat. The results of this research bring Dr. Santamaria’s team closer to human clinical trials, as an essential step towards eventually making these medications available to patients.

The CDA has a long history of supporting Dr. Santamaria’s work and has been funding his various research projects since 1999. In 2011, the CDA partnered with the University of Calgary to fund the Julia McFarlane Chair in Diabetes Research, held by Dr. Santamaria, to support research focused on finding a cure for diabetes. The CDA committed $1.25 million to this partnership ($250,000 per year for five years), derived through local fundraising efforts, and has also supported Dr. Santamaria’s work through CDA’s Operating Grant competition.

As the Julia McFarlane Chair in Diabetes Research and professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Calgary, Dr. Santamaria is driven by a commitment to bring scientific discoveries to the bedside by finding ways to directly treat diabetes.

Quotes:

“As a scientist, I feel very fortunate to have had the curiosity to ask the questions that took us into the path to making this discovery. I am extremely excited about this technology; it affords hope for patients and has a real potential to be effective.” – Dr. Pere Santamaria

“The Canadian Diabetes Association is committed to funding diabetes research that has the potential to advance treatments or find a cure for diabetes. The CDA has provided more than $130 million to support researchers over the last 40 years and the promising results from Dr. Santamaria’s research highlight how critical it is to continue to fund this type of work. We are grateful to our donors, as their support made it possible for the CDA to make a long-term financial commitment to this project.” – Rick Blickstead, President and CEO, CDA

“Dr. Santamaria’s innovative discovery represents a remarkable advance in diabetes research. In an animal model he has been able to stop the very onset of type 1 diabetes—an autoimmune attack that destroys the body’s ability to make insulin—and to do so without disabling the whole immune system. While more work is needed to see if his approach will be safe and effective in humans, this progress gives real hope to those who are searching for—and waiting for—a cure. We look forward to closely following the progress of this project as it moves into the clinical trial phase.” – Dr. Jan Hux, Chief Science Officer, CDA

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For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact:

Krista Lamb
Communications Manager
Canadian Diabetes Association
Phone: 416-408-7088
krista.lamb@diabetes.ca