How Can YOU Influence the Future of Type 1 Diabetes Research?
By Christie Auyeung
Twitter Summary: Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) creates #crowdfunding platform directly connecting donors with early-career scientists to fund innovative #T1D research
The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) has created a novel crowdfunding platform which directly connects donors with early-career scientists, enabling them to perform peer-reviewed, innovative research in type 1 diabetes. DRC, which was first established in 2012 and recently had its official launch, is dedicated to supporting exciting ideas of these younger scientists, who often have difficulties securing funding. Through DRC, scientists can receive up to $50,000 to support new research designed to prevent, cure, or better treat type 1 diabetes. We had the chance to discuss the DRC’s goals with its President, Dr. Alberto Hayek, and Board Chair, Mr. David Winkler. See below for our fascinating interview!
Scientists submit project proposals through the DRC website, which then undergo extensive review by a panel of over 80 leading diabetes experts for innovation, feasibility, value, and achievability.
In as few as 12 weeks, the most promising projects are selected and posted on DRC’s website.
Donors can choose projects they wish to fund (see the current projects available for support here) and donate right on the website.
Each researcher provides project updates and final outcomes to ensure transparency and adding to the body of diabetes research knowledge.
Back in March, we reviewed the Journal of the American Medical Association’s (JAMA) “Special Communication” paper titled “The Anatomy of Medical Research,” which pointed to the fact that diabetes and chronic illnesses are tremendously underfunded compared to other disease areas like cancer and HIV/AIDS. DRC provides one unique and complementary way of addressing this challenge, joining other efforts to increase diabetes research funding such as:
The Special Diabetes Program, created by the US Congress, which funds $150 million per year for type 1 diabetes research.
The American Diabetes Association Pathway Program that gives five-year research grants to awarded researchers who are entering diabetes.
Bonus! Our Interview with Diabetes Research Connection’s Chair Mr. David Winkler and President Dr. Alberto Hayek
Q: What is so special or particularly advantageous about using a crowdfunding model to fund type 1 diabetes research?
Mr. Winkler: One serious problem is the dearth of funding for early-stage research, often the source of some of the best creativity. Mainstream funding sources such as JDRF, ADA, and NIH don't provide grants in the range of $50,000, and many early-stage researchers who are in serious need of funding have difficulty obtaining grants. So we thought, why not go to the general public and enable DRC to complement these mainstream funding sources? In this way, we are broadening the base for donations, and the donor knows exactly to whom and what research project the funds are going.
Dr. Hayek: By following the instructions on the website, people can directly participate in the research of their choice. Right now when someone gives money to mainstream funding sources, they don't have much choice as to how the money will be spent. That is why crowdfunding is ideal. We’re also hoping that through crowdfunding, we can increase engagement with the public and cause more people to become involved in diabetes research.
Q: What qualities distinguish early-career scientists, and why is it so important for DRC to focus on them?
Dr. Hayek: It is very difficult for an early investigator like a PhD student to apply for funding, especially young scientists who have out-of-the-box, creative, and risky ideas. Most PIs [“principal investigators,” essentially the lead researchers] are not willing to take on such risks, and that is where DRC provides a credible solution.
Mr. Winkler: We hope we can provide seed money so that researchers can generate preliminary data to begin to show proof of a principle that will then enable the researcher to apply for larger grants. Research funds are often focused on the translational back end of research, but if we fail to feed the front end of the pipeline, we won't have much future research to drive the back end clinical studies. That is why we need to support exciting, early-stage, innovative ideas.
Q: What are you most proud of? What do you consider the DRC’s biggest successes thus far?
Dr. Hayek: We have 80 of the top scientists in diabetes research in the United States endorsing us and reviewing each project submitted. When we first told them of our idea, they were so overwhelmingly curious, interested and supportive.
Mr. Winkler: We’ve already fully funded two projects and we approved nine more projects this year.
Q: What are your short term and long term goals for DRC?
Mr. Winkler: We’re hopeful that we will fund at least ten projects this year, which would equal a half million dollars. I’d like to see DRC fund at least one million dollars in research next year. Our ultimate goal to find new ways to prevent, cure, and care for people with diabetes. We hope our grants will provide the foundation for other researchers to pursue avenues they might not have considered, adding to the body of knowledge, and engage more people in the process.
Q: How can we motivate more young people to become engaged in diabetes/endocrinology?
Mr. Winkler: The best way to motivate a researcher is to provide funding. If the funding is not there, they may turn to other diseases, away from diabetes. In terms of motivation for donors and others, DRC provides the only platform where you can directly influence the future of diabetes research and be assured that 100% of your donation goes directly to the research you designate. It's also very important for DRC supporters to get the word out about this platform via social networking and direct contact with those involved in the diabetes fight for better solutions.
Q: What do you think is the most solvable problem in diabetes?
Mr. Winkler: One of the biggest problems in type 1 diabetes is blood glucose variability. The advent of CGMs has made a huge difference in blood sugar control. That combined with a low glycemic diet produces considerably less variability in glucose levels. It’s not a cure or permanent solution, but it enables any person with type 1 diabetes to keep their blood glucose levels within a tighter bandwidth. Better glucose sensors would be great as well as faster insulins. Ultimately, an artificial pancreas will help further enhance blood glucose range control in the near future, or increasing access to those as well. Also, using CGM's should be made available now and result immediately in better hospital outcomes.