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Diabetes Breakthroughs Being Spurred by Worldwide nPOD Research Collaboration

MIAMI, Dec. 18, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- During a live webinar on Dec. 18, physicians and medical researchers from around the globe learned that The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust has provided a $3.3 million grant, the George S. Eisenbarth nPOD Award for Team Science, to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and University of Florida. Diabetes research is the real winner.

nPOD, the Network for the Pancreatic Organ Donor with Diabetes, was established by JDRF in 2007. The program supports the collection and characterization of pancreata and related tissues from organ donors with type 1 diabetes (T1D). These tissues are then made available to investigators addressing the most fundamental questions related to how T1D develops and progresses. The program's creation grew out of the insight among preeminent T1D researchers, led by Dr. George Eisenbarth, that while animal models for T1D could be useful, they differ from the human disease in many key aspects and, as such, some data derived from such models may not be applicable to the disease in humans. In fact, even after nearly a century of T1D research, we know very little about some of the basics of T1D in people at the cellular level because of the very limited amount of human tissue that is available for study. nPOD has been helping change that, producing a steady flow of critical insights into the T1D disease process over the years and supporting numerous advances on the path to better treatments and eventually a cure.

With new funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the unprecedented collaborative efforts of more than 140 worldwide research projects will be expanded upon and new ones will be launched, speeding up science and shedding light on the causes of T1D. Specifically, the Helmsley grant will support several new multidisciplinary working groups focusing on critical areas of T1D research, fund the creation of early-stage pilot research projects that leverage nPOD's human tissue samples, and expand the infrastructure and staffing resources to enhance biosample availability and scientific collaboration among nPOD investigators.

The Eisenbarth nPOD Award will build upon several groundbreaking developments that have occurred due to nPOD:

Promoting Scientific Synergy. Traditionally, medical studies in T1D are confidential and rarely shared among peers prior to publication of findings. nPOD changed this status quo. Now, instead of closely guarding research, nPOD's scientists regularly share samples, data, findings, and ideas in real time.

"Rather than competing against one another for academic prominence, nPOD is bringing together a community of researchers to conduct the best possible science," said Alberto Pugliese, M.D., professor at the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Executive Co-director of nPOD. "We're connecting the dots in real time with a remarkably high level of collaboration. We are speeding up science."

Enabling Access to Human Pancreatic Tissue Samples. Perhaps the biggest obstacle T1D researchers have historically faced is access to human samples of pancreatic tissue.

"Existing data from human pancreata was mostly from older studies that didn't factor in modern technologies available today," said Mark A. Atkinson, Ph.D., Director of the University of Florida Diabetes Institute and Co-director of nPOD. "Until nPOD, research was primarily on rodent models of the disease. But this has limitations because rodents only partially reproduce the human condition and several key questions cannot be investigated unless using human tissue."

Prior to the creation of nPOD, access to human pancreases for research was extremely rare, and obtaining T1D-diseased pancreatic tissue and other disease relevant tissues was even more uncommon. That changed when Dr. George Eisenbarth, for whom the Helmsley Charitable Trust award was named and a mentor to Pugliese, suggested the formation of nPOD and provided initial data in support of the feasibility of such an effort. Eisenbarth, who prematurely passed away in 2012, was a true pioneer in T1D research and made an incalculable impact in advancing the work to understand, treat, prevent and, someday, cure T1D.

"We would like to express our thanks to the Helmsley Charitable Trust and nPOD for developing the George S. Eisenbarth nPOD Award for Team Science," read a statement from the Eisenbarth family. "We cannot imagine a more fitting theme than team science for an award named after him. The collaborative and open nature of nPOD makes it an ideal group to support such an endeavor and provide an incredible opportunity for scientists trying to cure type 1 diabetes."
Today, thanks to outreach and education in the organ donation community, nPOD has collected more than 100 T1D donated pancreases. People suffering from T1D now understand the value of research being conducted on T1D-diseased pancreatic tissue and are actively engaged in procuring more samples for science.

Answering New Scientific Questions. With this new infusion of funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, more scientific research groups will be formed, and existing groups will be able to expand their work. Current and new projects include studies of whether a virus triggers T1D, how T-cells and autoimmunity impact T1D and why organ transplantation does not always eliminate T1D. Additional research groups are being planned, including a group that focuses on dysfunction of the insulin producing beta cells and their potential for regeneration.

"nPOD takes an invaluable tissue procurement network and engrains deep values of team science," said Dr. Eliot Brenner, Program Director of the Helmsley Charitable Trust's Type 1 Diabetes Program. "The Trust is excited to fund its progressive way of conducting medical research. The Eisenbarth nPOD Award for Team Science is an outstanding opportunity to further our understanding of the origin and development of the disease and potentially impact the health outcomes of people with T1D."

"The creation of nPOD has proven to be one of the most unique and valuable resources for advancing type 1 diabetes research," said Richard Insel, M.D., JDRF Chief Scientific Officer. "It has resulted in a number of key discoveries helping speed efforts to cure and prevent this disease. We are elated by the decision of the Helmsley Charitable Trust to add their support to this critical program and expand its focus."

About the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

The Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine leads the world in cure-focused research. As the largest and most comprehensive research center dedicated to curing diabetes, the DRI is aggressively working to develop a biological cure by restoring natural insulin production and normalizing blood sugar levels without imposing other risks. Since its inception, the DRI has made significant contributions to the field of diabetes, pioneering many of the techniques used in diabetes centers around the world. Having already shown that diabetes can be reversed through islet transplantation, the DRI is now building upon these promising outcomes to bring discoveries to all patients living with the disease in the fastest and most efficient way possible. For millions of patients and their families affected by diabetes, the DRI is the best hope for a cure. For more information, visit www.uhealthsystem.com/locations/diabetes-research-institute.

About University of Florida

UF Health, the most comprehensive academic health center in the Southeast, is a collaboration of the University of Florida Health Science Center and Shands. The colleges of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health and Health Professions, and Veterinary Medicine, various research centers and institutes, a network of faculty practices and the Shands family of hospitals fall under the UF Health umbrella, which extends to a regional campus in Jacksonville. UF Health also has a statewide presence through satellite medical, dental and nursing clinics staffed by UF health professionals and through affiliations with community-based health care facilities stretching from Hialeah and Miami to the Florida Panhandle.

About the Helmsley Charitable Trust

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting exceptional nonprofits and other mission-aligned organizations in health, selected place-based initiatives, and education and human services. Since 2008, when the Trust began its active grantmaking, it has committed more than $1 billion. The Helmsley Type 1 Diabetes Program is the largest private foundation funder of T1D-related research, treatment and support services in the nation. For more information, visit http://www.helmsleytrust.org.

About JDRF

JDRF is the leading global organization focused on type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. JDRF's goal is to progressively remove the impact of T1D from people's lives until we achieve a world without T1D. JDRF collaborates with a wide spectrum of partners and is the only organization with the scientific resources, regulatory influence and a working plan to bring life-changing therapies from the lab to the community. As the largest charitable supporter of T1D research, JDRF is currently sponsoring $568 million in charitable research in 17 countries. For more information, please visit www.jdrf.org.

About T1D

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which a person's pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone people need to get energy from food. T1D strikes both children and adults and has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is currently nothing you can do to prevent it. People with T1D must regularly monitor their blood sugar level, inject or continually infuse insulin through a pump, and carefully balance their insulin doses with eating and daily activities throughout the day and night. However, insulin is not a cure for diabetes, and even with intensive disease management, a significant portion of the day is still spent with either high or low blood sugar levels, placing people with T1D at risk for devastating complications such as heart attack, stroke, blindness, and amputation.

CONTACT: Kevin Cavanaugh 212-953-2876 kcavanaugh@helmsleytrust.orgSource:The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust