World Diabetes Day: funding boost for diabetes research

14 November 2017
Key Researchers
Senior Research Officer
Photo of Len Harrison
Laboratory Head
Prof Andrew Lew
Honorary Research Fellow
New research funding from Diabetes Australia and the Australian Government will support laboratory and clinical studies aimed at improving early intervention therapies and treatments for type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a serious health condition characterised by high blood glucose levels. It is caused by defective production or action of insulin, the main hormone responsible for controlling blood glucose levels. 

1.7 million Australians currently have diabetes, and are at risk of serious complications, particularly if their condition is not well controlled. The impact of diabetes on the Australian economy is currently estimated to be $14.6 billion annually.

At a glance

  • Type 1 diabetes is caused by destruction of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, caused by a faulty immune attack.

  • In type 2 diabetes, the body does not respond appropriately to insulin, potentially leading to a failure of insulin production. Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity, and it accounts for 85 per cent of diabetes cases in Australia.

  • New funding for diabetes research at the Institute has been announced on World Diabetes Day.

  • Diabetes Australia Research Program (DARP) grants will support two research projects aimed at improving treatments for type 1 and type 2 diabetes. 

  • A National Health and Medical Research Council Program Grant will provide $4.25 million for Institute type 1 diabetes researchers as part of a collaborative research program. 

Preserving pancreas function

Dr John Wentworth in the lab
A Diabetes Australia grant will support Dr John Wentworth’s 
clinical research into a new treatment for type 1 diabetes

Dr John Wentworth, an endocrinologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and a clinician scientist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, said that the DARP grant will support his investigations of a potential new treatment for people with early-stage type 1 diabetes. The research will be a collaboration between the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

“Empagliflozin is a tablet currently used to treat type 2 diabetes,” Dr Wentworth said.

“The DARP funding will help us to complete studies of people who have just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, to see whether treating with empagliflozin can preserve pancreas function.” 

Targeting inflammation

Dr Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar


Dr Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar has received Diabetes Australia
funding to investigate better treatments for type 2 diabetes.

A second DARP grant will enable Dr Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar to continue his research into how type 2 diabetes could be treated by reducing inflammation in adipose (fat) tissue. 

Dr Vasanthakumar said most current treatments for type 2 diabetes work by improving the absorption of glucose by tissues in the body. “Inflammation of adipose tissue contributes to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes,” Dr Vasanthakumar said. 

“This new funding will allow us to develop new approaches to treat type 2 diabetes that reduce adipose inflammation. We believe this could also increase the production of ‘brown’ fat, a type of adipose tissue that contributes to weight loss by burning energy to produce heat.” 

Early interventions for type 1 diabetes

Professor Len Harrison and Professor Andrew Lew


Professor Len Harrison and Professor Andrew Lew are
part of the collaborative diabetes research team to receive
a $9.5 million NHMRC Program Grant

Screening tests for type 1 diabetes in young children and potential early interventions are part of a five year $9.5 million collaborative program to be funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The funding, announced today by Australian Minister for Health the Hon Greg Hunt MP, will support clinical and laboratory research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research and The Westmead Institute for Medical Research.

Professor Len Harrison, a clinician-scientist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said the research built on a 15-year collaboration that had made considerable discoveries about how type 1 diabetes develops. 

“We now have a system in place that allows us to screen at-risk children in their first three years of life, and predict 90 per cent of those who will develop type 1 diabetes by adolescence,” Professor Harrison said. “The new funding allows us to build on discoveries from large population studies, in particular the ENDIA trial looking at environmental factors impacting the development of type 1 diabetes.”

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researcher Professor Andrew Lew said that understanding who is at risk of developing type 1 diabetes will provide new opportunities to prevent this disease, or begin treatments early.

“Our NHMRC program grant will investigate new therapies for people in early stages of type-1 diabetes, with a goal of preventing this disease before irreversible damage to the pancreas occurs,”  Professor Lew said.

Find out more


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E: communityrelations@wehi.edu.au

WEHI Authors
Senior Research Officer
Photo of Len Harrison
Laboratory Head
Prof Andrew Lew
Honorary Research Fellow
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