What kinds of research does Diabetes Canada fund?

All of our research is administered through the Charles H. Best Research Fund, and you can find details about our research on the Charles H. Best Research Fund webpage.

Research is generally broken into four “pillars”:

  • Pillar 1 is basic biomedical research: studying molecules, cells and tissues (think: test tubes and microscopes). Pillar 1 research examines how the basic building blocks of our bodies work in health and disease.
  • Pillar 2 is clinical research: studying people/ patients. Pillar 2 research takes the information from pillar 1 and turns it into treatments, diagnostic tests, and cures.
  • Pillar 3 is health services research: measuring how treatments developed in pillar 2 are being delivered to people and whether they provide the promised benefit.
  • Pillar 4 is population and public health: studying health at the level of whole populations (such as Canada) and subgroups (for instance: South Asian Canadians), in particular finding out if everyone is benefitting from advances in health services.

Why does Diabetes Canada fund research?

We fund research to help people with diabetes live healthier lives. Our researchers are investigating how and why diabetes happens, how to prevent diabetes, and new ways to treat and manage diabetes and its complications. We know that any new treatment needs to be scientifically reviewed before we can know that it is safe and effective for people with diabetes.

Diabetes Canada funds research in all four pillars, because these pillars all interact to get information from the “genes and cells” stage to a treatment. Without pillar 1 research medical science would not be advanced and the pipeline for latter pillar research would dry up. Without pillar 2 research, the discoveries from pillar 1 would never be translated into treatments and tests. Without pillar 3 research we wouldn’t know if those treatments work in the real world and how they can most efficiently be delivered. Without pillar 4 research we wouldn’t know the health of the population and the gaps in health status that drive new research questions.

Diabetes Canada has been funding research since 1975. Why haven’t you found a cure?

The Charles H. Best Research Fund was established, and since then Diabetes Canada has funded more than $120 million dollars in research to support thousands of Canada’s most renowned scientists, scholars, and clinicians. With all this time, money, and brain power, Diabetes Canada has funded excellent research that has improved the lives of people with diabetes. Finding a cure for a disease like diabetes is incredibly difficult, but we have made great strides in improving diabetes care and treatment.

The amount of research knowledge is increasing at an astoundingly fast pace, but even so, research takes time: pillar 1 research takes from 10 to 40 years before it impacts patients; pillar 2 research takes from 5 to 15 years before it impacts patients; and pillar 3 and 4 research takes from 1-5 years before it produces policy-actionable results (but impact on patients depends on whether governments put the findings into policy).

What kind of successes has Diabetes Canada funded?

Our researchers have been published in some of the best journals in the scientific world; this is a major indicator of success in science. They have increased the knowledge about why diabetes happens (type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes), how type 2 diabetes can be prevented, the complications of diabetes, how and why complications happen, and how complications can be treated.

We have funded many projects with great results, but two examples are:

  • Some of our funded researchers developed the Edmonton Protocol in 1999. It provided a new way to transplant pancreatic islets that allows some people with type 1 diabetes to use less insulin or even become insulin-free. This way to perform islet transplantation was adopted by transplant centres worldwide. Current researchers are searching for ways to make this process available to more people with diabetes and to find ways to reduce transplant rejection in this process.
  • We funded Dr. Daniel Drucker’s research discovery that led to the development of two new types of drugs for the treatment of diabetes: DPP4 inhibitors (like sitagliptin); and GLP-1 analogues (like exenatide). These drugs control blood glucose and insulin secretion without weight gain or hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), common side effects of previous treatments for diabetes.
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