Government of Canada and JDRF Canada announce new research funding to accelerate stem cell-based therapies for type 1 diabetes

News release

November 28, 2020 — Ottawa, ON — Canadian Institutes of Health Research

There are more than 300,000 Canadians living with type 1 diabetes (T1D), an autoimmune disease with no known cause or cure, resulting in the dysfunction, damage or loss of pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin in our bodies. People with T1D must treat themselves with insulin several times per day to keep their blood glucose levels normal, and despite their best efforts, they often experience serious, and even life-threatening, complications.

To mark the end of Diabetes Awareness Month, Sonia Sidhu, Member of Parliament for Brampton South, on behalf of the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, announced an investment of $6 million through the CIHR-JDRF Partnership to Defeat Diabetes for two Canadian research teams to accelerate the development of stem cell-based therapies for the treatment of T1D.

Stem cells show great promise as a source of insulin-producing cells that could be transplanted to provide a new source of insulin, to replace dysfunctional, damaged or lost pancreatic beta cells.  Canada has a remarkable legacy in leading discoveries in this area. Stem cells were discovered in Toronto in 1961, and in 2000, a team in Edmonton were the first to pioneer transplantation of pancreatic islets (the part of the pancreas that contains insulin-producing cells). These achievements represent important steps toward a treatment that will allow people with T1D to live healthy lives without daily insulin injections.

The research teams are led by Dr. Maria Cristina Nostro at the University Health Network and the University of Toronto and Dr. Francis Lynn at the BC Children's Hospital Research Institute and the University of British Columbia. The teams will build on Canada's demonstrated research excellence and leadership in clinical islet transplantation, stem cell biology, diabetes, immunology and genetic engineering to accelerate stem cell-based therapies for T1D. They will work in collaboration with other Canadian researchers to tackle some of the biggest scientific challenges that impede our progress in this area and move us closer to a future where people with T1D will no longer rely on insulin therapy.

This funding was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes (CIHR-INMD), and JDRF Canada, through the CIHR-JDRF Partnership to Defeat Diabetes established in 2017. Each partner will invest $3 million over five years. This investment is part of a large research initiative, 100 Years of Insulin: Accelerating Canadian Discoveries to Defeat Diabetes, funded by CIHR and partners. This initiative commemorates the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin to be marked in 2021—a discovery that changed the lives of millions of Canadians and people around the world and won researchers Sir Frederick Banting and John Macleod the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.


"Diabetes Awareness Month is a time to commemorate the discoveries and advancements Canadian researchers have made towards a treatment, while also recognizing that more work needs to be done. The Government of Canada must continue to collaborate with partners like JDRF Canada to invest in health research that will improve the well-being of people who live with diabetes."
The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health

"Diabetes continues to be a major health concern for many Canadians. We know that diabetes is a leading cause of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and blindness; it places a huge burden on Canada's health care system, and that is why we must continue to fund research and make strides towards overcoming this disease."
Sonia Sidhu, Member of Parliament for Brampton South

"CIHR's Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes is pleased to collaborate with national and international partners to fund research that will help develop new preventive and therapeutic solutions for people living with diabetes, and reduce the impact of diabetes on individuals, families and communities. New research on stem cell-based therapies offers hope that in the future, people with type 1 diabetes will no longer need to inject insulin on a daily basis to control their diabetes."
Norman Rosenblum, Scientific Director, Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes

"Through the JDRF-CIHR Partnership to Defeat Diabetes, JDRF Canada is proud to support these two teams, who will carry out exciting and ambitious work at the cutting edge of cell replacement research. As we approach the insulin centenary, we remain committed to helping move into an era of research that will take us beyond insulin therapy, eventually providing people with type 1 diabetes with freedom from their disease. We are grateful to our community and our donors for enabling us to continue supporting crucial diabetes research during these challenging times."
Dave Prowten, President and CEO, JDRF

Quick facts

  • Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the body cannot sufficiently produce or properly use insulin to absorb sugar.

  • People with T1D produce no insulin and rely on insulin therapy to control their blood sugar, and to survive.

  • Over the past five years, CIHR has invested more than $230M in diabetes research.

  • In addition to this, CIHR is investing more than $30M over the next 7 years (starting in 2020-2021) in new research as part of the 100 Years of Insulin: Accelerating Canadian Discoveries to Defeat Diabetes initiative.

  • JDRF is the largest charitable funder of T1D research having invested more than $2.8 billion since its inception in 1970.

  • JDRF has been part of nearly every major scientific breakthrough in T1D research worldwide since 1970.

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Cole Davidson
Office of the Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Health

David Coulombe
Media Relations
Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Soledad Vega
National Marketing and Communications Manager
JDRF Canada

At the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) we know that research has the power to change lives. As Canada's health research investment agency, we collaborate with partners and researchers to support the discoveries and innovations that improve our health and strengthen our health care system.

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