Spokane Journal of Business

Seattle researchers, others look at genetics, diabetes

Multidisciplinary group lands $4.3 million grant to search for treatments

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Scientists around the world have been working for decades to find better treatments, cures, and potentially preventions for Type 1 diabetes. Assisted by a new $4.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, researchers from two Seattle institutions and the University of Virginia are joining forces to explore how genes contribute to the development of that form of diabetes.

The Washington state participants in the study are from the Benaroya Research Institute at Seattle's Virginia Mason Hospital & Medical Center and Seattle Children's Research Institute.

Diabetes is a chronic, debilitating disease which affects nearly 26 million Americans. As many as 3 million people have Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, which usually occurs in children or young adults. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the cells that make insulin. People with this disease must take insulin to stay alive. They also must balance their food intake and exercise.

"This research is targeted at understanding the genetic causes of Type 1 diabetes," says Dr. Jane Buckner, principal investigator of the study and associate director of Benaroya Research Institute. "This is fundamental to being able to predict disease and develop interventions (therapies) that can treat, cure, and we hope prevent Type 1 diabetes."

Buckner's co-investigators on the grant are Dr. David Rawlings, director of the Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies at Seattle Children's Research Institute and Dr. Patrick Concannon, professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at University of Virginia.

"These studies will not only lead to understanding how an individual gene may lead to Type 1 diabetes, but it will also identify immunologic pathways that are involved in the disease," Buckner says.

Those pathways then can be targeted for diagnosis and therapy, she says.

"The unique feature of this grant is the utilization of three distinct types of research—genetics, disease models, and human studies in an integrated fashion," Buckner says. "We three investigators, with our different forms of research expertise, will tackle the same questions using different tools. By using this method and sharing our results in real time, we will more quickly determine the key components that cause Type 1 diabetes and the best strategies for therapy."

Benaroya, founded in 1956, works in immune system and autoimmune disease research, translating discoveries to real-life applications. It claims to be one of one of the few research institutes dedicated to discovering causes and cures to eliminate autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis.

It employs more than 250 scientists, physician researchers, and staff with a research volume of more than $35 million in 2011, including grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense, JDRF, the American Heart Association, and others.

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