2 million awarded for development of beta cell implant for type 1 diabetes

A leading researcher at Imperial College London has been awarded £2 million that will fund ground-breaking research into type 1 diabetes.

Dr Victoria Salem from the Department of Bioengineering has been awarded a prestigious Senior Research Fellowship by the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge - a partnership between the Steve Morgan Foundation, Diabetes UK and JDRF.

"The dream for a cell-based cure for type 1 diabetes is now tantalisingly close - I’m so excited and honoured to be a part of this journey."

Dr Victoria Salem

Clinical Senior Lecturer in Diabetes and Endocrinology

Dr Salem’s research will investigate a treatment to replace insulin-producing (beta) cells that are destroyed in type 1 diabetes by the immune system. Through her work, she aims to develop a device that can be implanted into people with the disease to deliver a new supply of beta cells.

Dr Salem will use state-of-the-art bioprinting techniques to print a jelly-like protective barrier to shield new lab-made beta cells from the immune system’s attack. The protective barrier will be a sanctuary for the beta cells, allowing in vital nutrients that they need to survive. The implant will first be tested in mice to build the evidence needed to take it into clinical trials.

Dr Salem, said: "There are so many hurdles to creating a successful cell-transplant for people with type 1 diabetes. We can only crack this by working together - building fruitful collaborations across disciplines and the Grand Challenge is providing the boost we need to mobilise the best scientists in the UK towards this cause.

"I will lead a team of outstanding researchers, and international collaborators to engineer improved beta cell replacement technologies.

"The dream for a cell-based cure for type 1 diabetes is now tantalisingly close - I’m so excited and honoured to be a part of this journey."

Dr Salem is one of three researchers across the UK to receive the Fellowship, made possible by the generous £50 million donation from the Steve Morgan Foundation in the race towards a cure for type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. This means the pancreas can no longer produce insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels. Up to 400,000 people in the UK are living with type 1 diabetes, including over 30,000 in London.

Steve and Sally Morgan, Founders of the Steve Morgan Foundation, said:

"We are proud of the Grand Challenge partnership with Diabetes UK and JDRF UK, which aims to accelerate the advancement towards a breakthrough for people living with type 1 diabetes. We are delighted with the appointment of Dr Salem’s Fellowship and look forward with anticipation to her discoveries and progress."

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said:

"We are thrilled to announce that Dr Salem is one of the first scientists to be spearheading the Grand Challenge’s mission to deliver transformational new treatments and bring fresh hope of a cure for everyone living with type 1 diabetes.

"Dr Salem’s cutting-edge project will push the boundaries of type 1 diabetes research, and could lead to new ways to restore insulin-making beta cells. We look forward to seeing how Dr Salem’s discoveries will drive radical change for people with type 1 diabetes."

Rachel Connor, Director of Research Partnerships at JDRF UK, said:

"We are delighted that the Steve Morgan Foundation’s innovation in inspiring the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is getting off to such strong start, providing Dr Salem with a Senior Research Fellowship. The funding will enable her to bring together an innovative team of engineers and cell biologists to push forward in developing new cell-based technologies.

"Dr Salem’s work will forge a new path in giving people with type 1 diabetes the ability to make their own insulin again - getting us closer to a world without the constant demands of balancing insulin doses to changing glucose levels in the body."

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge was established following the Steve Morgan Foundation’s generous £50 million donation into type 1 diabetes research. Over five years the Grand Challenge is funding research with the greatest potential to lead to life-changing new treatments and ultimately a cure for type 1 diabetes.