May 8, 2013

Joslin: Challenges and Opportunities in Type 1 Diabetes Research

The Joslin Diabetes Center hosted their first Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) Symposium on May 6 at the Harvard School of Medicine. Titled “Challenges and Opportunities in Type 1 Diabetes Research” there was an impressive group of speakers on a range of Type 1 research. 

The presentations were fascinating. Seeing the eager interchange between speakers was particularly encouraging. I left with a renewed confidence in the quality of work being accomplished and hope for success in taming T1D. Maybe my most significant take away was to recognize the passion that the researches have is akin to what we as parents of Type 1 kids feel. Those passions can come together when those of us living with T1D help support this work directly and through our elected government’s programs.

There were presentations on the autoimmune attack. Obviously understanding the autoimmune process is critical in being creative about how to stop that attack.    I found it amusing that the process was referred to as an “insult” to the beta cells. Makes me want to tell the beta cells to man up and take a little flack. Apparently it isn’t that easy. 

We were shown detailed images of how the macrophages attack beta cells.  One point that stuck with me was that the autoimmune attack may come in waves over a long period. This suggest that a treatment that mitigates the autoimmune process would need to also be in the body for a long period, be effective when there was a periodic attack on the pancreas and the rest of the time not harmful to other immune processes between those rounds of beta cell insults. 

Other presenters spoke on growing new beta cells. It seems that people must do so. Almost all of Joslin’s 50 year medalist, those folks with 50+ years of type 1, who donated their pancreas posthumously for research had functioning beta cells. So beta cells either last a lifetime or, more likely, they can regenerate. As one presentation discussed beta cells pretty much suck at reproducing. Ok that isn’t *exactly* how it was said but you get the idea. There is a small host of inhibitors of cell reproduction hanging out in beta cells. The good news is researcher knows they are there and maybe how to inhibit the inhibition. The closing presentation was on betatrophin which may help beta cells suck less at reproducing. 

Ed Damiano gave a presentation on progress towards a dual hormone artificial pancreas. He made a convincing case for the need for both insulin and glucagon as part of the system. He brought both the passion of a researcher and a dad to the table. It is not that he wants his son wearing a bionic pancreas, it is not the final solution. A cure is. Ed was humble, his research may give kids, like his, a better life while the search continues for a cure. 

That humility was clear throughout the symposium. This was not a day of headlines we so often see blazing about cures but humble presentations that were as much about what researchers didn’t know, as what had been discovered. Accompanying that was a clear desire, often expressed from the podium in reply to questions, to work with other and bring separate efforts together to perhaps jointly find what had not yet been found separately. 

It was a privilege to be there and being somewhat overwhelmed by the individuals giving presentations and asking questions. I can think of little that would have improved the day.    Well, other than a cure. 

My thanks to the Joslin Diabetes Center for extending me an invitation to attend as a member of the diabetes online community. Thanks also to Joslin’s co-sponsor, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.


  1. Thanks for this report, Bennet. I wrote something a number of years ago, that I think resonates at every one of these kinds of conferences and meetings: Passionate people will cure diabetes. Seeing that come alive in their faces and eyes is the most amazing feeling ever, and often trumps whatever science-tech talk is going on.

  2. It seems that they heading towards the right direction.People should know everything about the diabetes that what is type 1 diabetes and type 2.