City of Hope Aims to Cure Type 1 Diabetes in Six Years

July 11, 2017 | by City of Hope

It’s an extraordinary goal powered by an extraordinary gift.

City of Hope’s Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute is committed to developing a cure for type 1 diabetes (T1D) within six years, fueled by a $50 million funding program led by the Wanek family.

It seems an audacious goal for a comprehensive cancer center, but City of Hope has a long history of groundbreaking work in diabetes. Research conducted by City of Hope led to the development of synthetic human insulin, which is still used today by many of the estimated 1.5 million Americans with T1D and 27 million with type 2 diabetes (T2D). 

“City of Hope is best positioned to take on this challenge,” said Robert W. Stone, president and chief executive officer of City of Hope. “This is thanks to our 40-year institutional legacy of pioneering treatment and research advances in diabetes.”

The funding for the transformative research needed to embark on such an endeavor is led by a gift from the Wanek family, which owns Ashley Furniture Industries, the world’s largest home furniture manufacturer.

“City of Hope scientists’ research has revolutionized the understanding and treatment of diabetes,” said Todd Wanek, chief executive officer of Ashley Furniture, speaking on behalf of his family. “It continues today as physicians and scientists gain systemic understanding of diabetes as a complex, multifaceted disease.”

Through the generosity of the family and gifts from an anonymous donor, City of Hope will be able to devote more than $50 million over the next six years to an unprecedented research effort: The Wanek Family Project for Type 1 Diabetes at City of Hope.

A Multifaceted Approach

The Wanek Family Project will result in the creation of a series of highly focused programs at City of Hope. The idea is to attack the problem of T1D in an integrated way. Novel immunotherapy approaches will be investigated, as will insulin-secreting beta cells and ways to keep the body from rejecting those cells during transplantation.

The City of Hope goal to cure T1D will focus on three core areas, each of which is crucial in treating both types of diabetes.

Immune modulation

Research is already underway at City of Hope to unlock the immune system’s role in diabetes, including T cell modulation and stem cell-based therapies that may reverse the autoimmune attack on islet cells in the pancreas, which is the cause of T1D. City of Hope’s Bart Roep, Ph.D., previously worked at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands, where he was instrumental in launching a phase 1 clinical trial for a vaccine that aims to spur the immune system to fight – and possibly cure – T1D. Plans are being developed for a larger phase 2 trial to launch in the future at City of Hope.

Beta cell expansion and replacement

T1D and T2D both develop due to the dysfunction and demise of insulin-secreting beta cells. Researchers will work to improve methods of boosting and replacing beta cells to encourage long-term survival. Studies associated with the Wanek Family Project will derive new innovations to correct the beta cell dysfunction in diabetes.

Preventing diabetes complications

Both T1D and T2D are associated with similar complications: accelerated heart, kidney, neural and eye diseases greatly increase morbidity and mortality rates in both diseases. Scientists will work on intervening at the genetic level to reverse complications and will seek ways to predict the development of complications in order to prevent them from occurring.

“City of Hope is extremely grateful for the Wanek family’s significant gift that will enable the institution to forward type 1 diabetes research, the results of which will have worldwide impact,” said Stone.

“Our family is extremely confident that City of Hope is the institution that will find a cure for the more than 1 million Americans who battle type 1 diabetes disease every day,” Wanek said.

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