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Type 1 diabetes research highlights from the world’s biggest diabetes conference

This week saw the 83rd American Diabetes Association (ADA) Scientific Session draw to a close, with highlights including exciting research developments on beta cells and insulin delivery. 

This is the biggest meeting of diabetes researchers and healthcare professionals anywhere in the world. This year the meeting took place from 23-26 June in San Diego.

Here are a few highlights from the ground-breaking type 1 diabetes research that was shared.

Bolstering beta cells in type 1 diabetes research

Last year researchers at biotech company Vertex updated us on their pioneering trial testing a new stem cell treatment. Stem cells can shape-shift into any type of cell in the body, including insulin-making beta cells. Scientists are using stem cells to develop treatments to replace the beta cells that have been destroyed in people living with type 1 diabetes.

In Vertex’s trial, people received an injection of these manmade beta cells, in a treatment called VX-880. Their first study involved two people, and compared the effects of VX-880 at half and full dose strengths.

At ADA the team told us that after one year both of these participants were able to stop injecting insulin completely, their HbA1c had drastically lowered, from 70mmol/mol to 34mmol/mol (8.6% to 5.3%) and 60mmol/mol to 42mmol/mol (7.6% to 6%) respectively.

And they both spent over 95% of time with blood sugar levels within a target range (4-10mmol/L).

Since the original two participants, three more people have been treated with a full-strength dose of VX-880. Following up after around three months, the team found that all three participants were injecting less insulin, but still had lower HbA1c and spent longer with steadier blood sugar levels. Based on these promising early findings, the team is confident that over time these new participants should see similar positive results to the original two.

No one reported any major side effects during the trial, so the researchers are now reaching out to invite more people to take part, including their first UK trial. We’re excited to follow the team as they refine this ground-breaking treatment. Read more about Vertex’s treatment here.

Trevor Reichman, MD, PhD, one of the researchers running the study, said:

"We are hopeful that this first-of-its-kind research could be a gamechanger for the treatment of type 1 diabetes."

Beta cell replacement treatments could move us towards a new era where people with type 1 diabetes no longer need to inject insulin to manage their blood sugar levels. And to get us there faster, the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, our partnership with JDRF and the Steve Morgan Foundation, is investing in game-changing research to find new and even more effective approaches.

Embarking on tailored support for diabetes distress

As well as the physical burden, type 1 diabetes adds a huge mental burden to people living with the condition. Research suggests that people with type 1 have to make an extra 180 decisions per day, compared to people without type 1. So it’s no surprise that diabetes distress, when people feel overwhelmed by the relentlessness of diabetes, is so common.

Each person living with diabetes is unique, so not every mental health support programme will be right for everyone. At ADA, we heard from a team of researchers at the University of California who have been running a clinical trial, EMBARK, to investigate the effects three different approaches designed to reduce diabetes distress.

They recruited 300 adults living with type 1 diabetes and diabetes distress, who were randomly assigned to one of three programmes:

  • StreamLine – diabetes education and management
  • TunedIn – led by psychologists with a specific focus on lowering diabetes distress
  • FixIt – a mix of elements from both StreamLine and TunedIn

All the group-based programmes were delivered virtually over three to four months, and included workshops, one-to-one phone calls and follow-up meetings.

The team found that all three programmes had a positive impact, with 74% of the participants reporting lower levels of diabetes distress. The FixIt programme was the most successful, highlighting that people experiencing diabetes distress benefit most from a tailored combination of education and emotional support.

Over the next year, the team will follow up with everyone taking part to see how long these improvements could last. But these early findings remind us that everyone living with diabetes deserves personalised support going beyond just their physical symptoms, helping them to live happier and healthier lives.

Danielle Hessler Jones, PhD, who ran the study, said:

"These findings emphasize the significance of providing comprehensive support that addresses both the educational and emotional needs of individuals living with diabetes."

A device that does it all – glucose monitoring and insulin delivery

Diabetes technologies like insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGM) can help people with type 1 diabetes to improve their blood sugar levels, have less hypos and make self-managing the condition easier. But having multiple devices and separate insertions, which may not always work off the same replacement schedules, can create challenges for the user.

So, relying on just one device to manage type 1 diabetes could be much more user friendly. At ADA, we heard from a company, called Pacific Diabetes Technologies. They have developed a device called SynerG™ that brings CGM and insulin delivery together for the first time – syncing up replacement schedules and cutting down on CGM warm up time.

24 adults who use an insulin pump to manage their type 1 diabetes were recruited to take part in the first ever feasibility study. Participants were given a standardised meal an hour after the device had been inserted. Their blood sugar levels were measured 60 minutes before and for 4 hours after the meal.

Professor David O'Neal MD, one of the researchers leading the trial said:

"We envision a device like this will help to minimize the burden of care and associated psychological distress for those living with diabetes who require insulin."

There are still many questions to be answered before the device moves towards widespread use. But this research is an exciting step forward. It shows us that it’s possible to combine accurate CGM and reliable insulin delivery. We look forward to seeing what comes next.

This is just a tiny glimpse of all the brilliant research that was presented at the 83rd American Diabetes Association Scientific Session. Keep an eye out for our next ADA research update, covering what’s new in type 2 diabetes treatments.

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