Helmsley Charitable Trust supports work of islet cell researchers

May 3, 2015 | by David Levine

Henry Ford said it well: “Working together is success.” For biomedical researchers, this is especially true. The challenges they face often require expertise from multiple fields to find answers and solutions.

Joyce Niland Joyce Niland has received City of Hope's first-ever grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, supporting diabetes research.

Scientists seeking cures for type 1 diabetes in particular must overcome biological, medical and technological barriers that make the disease particularly difficult to address. A breakthrough grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust will help.

Joyce Niland, Ph.D., the Edward and Estelle Alexander Chair in Information Sciences, is principal investigator on the three-year, $228,000 grant — the first obtained from the Helmsley Charitable Trust by a City of Hope investigator. It will support and encourage the attendance of diabetes researchers at annual Human Islet Cell Research Network (HIRN) conferences.

The HIRN was recently launched by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to understand how human beta cells — the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin — are lost in people with type 1 diabetes. Chief among the network's objectives is to find innovative strategies to protect or replace functional beta cells in those living with the disease.

The network focuses on research that will lead to a greater understanding of the early stages of the type 1 diabetes disease process in humans. The grant from the trust will help make it easier for members to learn, collaborate and advance their work by providing opportunities for exchange of scientific ideas, fostering collaborations, generating additional joint projects and supporting junior investigators who may not otherwise be able to attend.

“HIRN conferences are very important to keeping the network’s investigators apprised of one another’s findings and progress,” Niland said. “The more we can do to ensure high attendance, the greater the opportunity to advance the studies. This grant will help ensure productive interaction among our scientists.

Niland is also principal investigator on a $5 million grant that funds the HIRN’s coordinating center, and co-principal investigator with John Kaddis, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Research Information Sciences, on a $2.5 million grant supporting the HIRN's bioinformatics center. She called out Layla Rouse, HIRN project administrator, as particularly important to obtaining the Helmsley Charitable Trust grant.

“I want to especially thank Layla for her expertise and dedication in applying for this much-needed and prestigious award from the trust,” Niland said. “She was instrumental to our success in obtaining the grant.”

The Helmsley Charitable Trust has given more than $1 billion in grants since inception in 2008. Its Helmsley Type 1 Diabetes Program is the largest private foundation funder of type 1 diabetes-related initiatives. It partners with a wide range of organizations and institutions to understand the disease, develop better treatments and improve care and access.

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