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$3.2-million in new technology to boost diabetes research at BC Children’s

June 06, 2016
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The Canucks for Kids Fund Childhood Diabetes Laboratories took centre stage at a special event featuring the Honourable Amrik Virk, BC Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services.

Speaking to researchers, staff and families at BC Children’s Hospital, Minister Virk announced more than $27-million of new funding from the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF) to support 40 research projects including $3.2-million for childhood diabetes research.

“This funding will transform diabetes research at BC Children’s Hospital and offer new hope for BC kids and families living with this disease,” said Dr. Bruce Verchere, Head of the Canucks for Kids Fund Childhood Diabetes Laboratories. “It will help us in the search for new ways of predicting who’s at risk of developing diabetes, preventing the onset of the disease, treating it with better therapies, and one day, a cure.”

The award will support new state-of-the-art technology, such as:

  • Functional Genomics Core – High tech DNA sequencing equipment that researchers will use to understand how changes in DNA or genes put children at risk for diabetes, and to discover new genes that increase risk.
  • Functional Phenotyping Core – Technology that will allow researchers to study the function and characteristics of cells, such as immune cells and the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, to understand the specific qualities of cells from children with diabetes. The new knowledge can be used to discover cellular markers for predicting disease and to develop new treatments
  • Advanced Microscopy Core – A high-resolution microscope that will enable real-time study of living insulin-producing cells (called “beta cells”), using digital technology to create 3D cell images. This will help researchers understand the immune system’s attack on beta cells, which causes type 1 diabetes, and to study new potential therapies.
  • Cell Engineering and Therapy Core – The latest in cell sorting technology will allow rare immune cells to be purified for pre-clinical cells, moving the Diabetes Labs toward the first Canadian clinical trials of T regulatory cell therapy. New infrastructure will meet Health Canada guidelines for clinical cell therapy trials, and will enable gene therapy vectors to be developed for transferring regenerative and protective genes in lab studies, with the ultimate goal of developing gene therapy for diabetes in the clinic.
  • Mobile Research Unit and Biobank – A special van outfitted as a mobile clinical research unit. Researchers will visit children for assessment in their home communities, and will safely transport children’s blood samples back to the lab for analysis.

The event was emceed by MLA Sam Sullivan. The speakers included Dr. Helen Burt, Associate VP Research and International, UBC; Dr. Verchere and Sheila Kern whose daughter Fiona was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 10 years ago.

Diabetes is a hormone disorder defined by the inability to regulate blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes typically develops during childhood when the immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas called beta cells that produce insulin. As a result, children are dependent on insulin injections and frequent blood sugar monitoring for the rest of their lives and face the risk of potential medical complications.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body stops responding to insulin and the beta cells eventually fail. Usually associated with obesity, it is now increasingly seen in children, which increases their lifetime risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Fast Facts: Canucks for Kids Fund Childhood Diabetes Laboratories

  • The Labs were created in 2002 with a $9-million award from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund
  • Named the Canucks for Kids Fund Childhood Diabetes Laboratories in 2011
  • Created 50 new jobs with support from international, industrial and charitable funders
  • Housed at the research facilities at BC Children’s Hospital
  • 12 core investigators including 4 new recruits
  • In the past 5 years, diabetes investigators have supervised over 100 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, and more than 80 undergraduates.
  • Since 2009, diabetes researchers have made 7 invention disclosures, filed 17 patents (provisional and utility), and filed 2 interinstitutional/option agreements.

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