Grant Aids Fight Against Diabetes

Grant Aids Fight Against Diabetes

The University of Central Florida recently landed a national grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) to investigate a potential treatment for Type 1 diabetes.

UCF Professor Henry Daniell is the recipient of the JDRF’s $512,000, three-year grant. JDRF, based in New York City and with offices in Altamonte Springs, has been investing in Type 1 research for more than three decades and for the first time is funding a UCF scientist because of Daniell’s promising research.

There’s much research under way trying to cure diabetes, especially in Central Florida. From Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and its focus on Type 2 diabetes and its connection to fat, to UCF’s groundbreaking work to create insulin from plants that could reactivate production of the protein in the pancreas, the possibility exists that diabetes may someday be a thing of the past.

But much of the research is specific to Type 2 diabetes – the kind that usually develops in adulthood when the body no longer produces enough insulin or the body’s cells ignore the insulin. It’s the most common form of diabetes affecting millions of Americans each year.

Very little research in Central Florida is focused on Type 1 diabetes, which is diagnosed in children and young adults. In Type 1, insulin is not produced at all and children must learn how to inject themselves to survive.

Daniell has developed capsules of insulin produced in genetically modified lettuce that could hold the key to restoring the body’s ability to produce insulin.

In 2006, Daniell’s research team successfully genetically engineered lettuce plants with the insulin gene and then administered freeze-dried plant cells to five-week-old diabetic mice as a powder for eight weeks. By the end of the study in 2007, the diabetic mice had normal blood and urine sugar levels, and their cells were producing normal levels of insulin. The research has continued since 2007.

“Although more research is needed, I am hopeful that we will see a cure in my lifetime,” Daniell said.

Martin Bernstine, the executive director of JDRF’s Central Florida Chapter, said the national organization has provided more than $1.6 billion in research grants since it was founded in 1970. It gave Florida’s researchers more than $22 million in 2010.

“Dr. Daniell’s research is quite promising, and we’re thrilled to be able to fund a local scientist working on such important work to our community,” Bernstine said.

Bernstine says that while the organization’s focus is on Type 1 diabetes, his office provides a variety of services to people with Type 1 or 2 diabetes in nine counties including Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Volusia, Lake, Sumter, Flagler, Brevard and Polk. In addition to funding research, the organization offers services including support groups and offering newly diagnosed children educational and support materials, including Rufus, a stuffed teddy bear.

Children use Rufus to practice injecting insulin by giving the bear “shots” of insulin.

“Diabetes is prevalent, and we are dedicated to finding a cure,” Bernstine said. “We will continue to fund researchers who are moving us in that direction.

Daniell joined UCF’s Burnett School for Biomedical Sciences, a part of the College of Medicine, in 1998. His research led to the formation of the university’s first biotechnology company. He has published more than 200 academic research papers, speaks at conferences around the world and he has been honored by several organizations for his pioneering work. Daniell is only the 14th American in the last 222 years to be elected to the Italian National Academy of Sciences.

He also is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Bayer HealthCare of Germany, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and several federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Department of Agriculture, currently fund his research.