Bringing Breakthroughs to Life Since 1970: JDRF’s Track Record of Research Success

“Insulin is not a cure for diabetes; it is a treatment.” – Dr. Frederick Banting

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin by researchers Dr. Frederick Banting and Charles Best at the University of Toronto. It is often called Canada’s gift to the world.

Before insulin treatment, a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes (T1D) meant inevitable death for adults and children. T1D is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that make the insulin hormone. Without insulin, the body is unable to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. 

The discovery of the insulin hormone meant that T1D could be treated, but 100 years later, although there have been significant advancements in insulin delivery and diabetes technology, it remains the only treatment, and it cannot prevent progression of this chronic disease. In fact, T1D is one of only two common autoimmune conditions without an approved disease-modifying therapy on the market.

JDRF has been finding, funding, and connecting the best T1D research around the world for over 50 years. Since its inception, JDRF has supported almost every key T1D research breakthrough through a drive to accelerate progress and lead transformational change. 

JDRF has helped to steer the path of T1D research, and brought multiple new drugs, devices or clinical tools to people with T1D and their healthcare providers. 

Diabetes Devices 

JDRF has played a key role in developing diabetes technology and devices that help people living with T1D better manage the disease.

The past 10 years has seen a rapid evolution in technology for monitoring of blood sugars. “Fingerprick” blood-testing using a glucometer to measure blood glucose in a drop of blood applied to a test strip has increasingly been replaced with newer technology such as continuous glucose monitors (CGMs); helping to reduce risk of hyper- and hypoglycemic episodes by providing alerts to the user or their caregiver and allowing for pro-active treatment and lessening the likelihood of hospitalizations. CGMs also help users and caregivers to better plan meal tracking and exercise. These are life-changing and even life-saving devices for people with T1D. 

This technology provides the user with the knowledge necessary to make more informed decisions about their diabetes management and helps to reduce medical visits. JDRF Canada’s advocacy efforts, as part of its #AccessForAll campaign, are to ensure affordability and accessibility of these systems while also expanding patient choice.

JDRF has funded multiple landmark studies of CGMs that proved their effectiveness. JDRF also supported CONCEPT; a randomized clinical trial led by Canadian researchers that tested CGM use during pregnancy in mothers with T1D. The trial demonstrated using the device before and during pregnancy led to better outcomes for mothers and their newborn babies. These results have led to changes in care for T1D pregnancies, and coverage for CGMs in pregnant women in several countries. 

JDRF also worked with the US FDA to create a regulatory roadmap for the development of artificial pancreas/ hybrid closed loop systems that reduced the approval timeline for the first of these devices by several years.

Future JDRF-funded research on devices will work to further automate insulin delivery, dramatically reducing both T1D-related risks and the management burden for people living with the disease.

Cell Therapies

T1D destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas that are necessary for regulating and maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. However, were it not for JDRF, the idea of replacing the insulin-producing beta cells in people with T1D would likely still be only an idea. 

Over the past decades, JDRF’s vision and belief in the possibilities in this area of research have accelerated progress so that many potential cure therapies are now in human clinical trials. 

Stem cells show great promise as a source of insulin-producing cells that can be transplanted to provide a new source of insulin, to replace dysfunctional, damaged or lost pancreatic beta cells. 

Canada has a remarkable legacy in leading discoveries in this area. Stem cells – now being pursued as a source of insulin-producing cells for transplantation – were discovered in Toronto in 1961, and in 2000, researchers from the University of Alberta pioneered the Edmonton protocol, now a widely used protocol for successful transplantation of pancreatic islets (the part of the pancreas that contains insulin-producing cells). 

Many other JDRF funded researchers continue to work on advancing beta cell therapies and islet transplantations to make them more accessible and available to a greater number of people living with T1D. 

Recently, Sernova, a Canadian company, announced that patients in their ongoing clinical trial, funded in part by JDRF, showed meaningful improvement in their blood sugar control and lessened need for insulin treatment, through its Cell Pouch System™ technology. This involves purified islet cells (the cells that produce insulin and that are destroyed in people with T1D) transplanted into the Cell Pouch™, an implantable medical device that provides a vascularized environment for the therapeutic cells. 

Cell replacement therapies such as that being explored by Sernova aim to replace lost or damaged beta cells with a new source of insulin-producing cells, providing a physiological cure for T1D.

Collective efforts to make beta cell replacement a reality means that people with T1D could soon be freed from their blood glucose monitors and insulin injections for years, or even permanently.

T1D Prevention 

Preventing T1D is the fastest route to a cure, and thanks to advances in research funded by JDRF, this goal is now within reach. JDRF believes that we will soon be able to stop the progression of T1D before it even starts, and the disease as we know it today – will become a thing of the past.

A recent JDRF-funded clinical trial of a drug called teplizumab showed that treatment of children and adults at risk of T1D delayed onset of clinical symptoms by an average of 3 years. Further work will identify how to delay disease onset even longer – or even indefinitely

Support of screening studies by JDRF globally will mean that we can identify those who are at risk of T1D so that they can one day be treated with prevention therapies such as teplizumab before the disease can progress. 

JDRF’s $100M Campaign to Accelerate has been developed to fund research centred around screening, prevention, better treatments and cures for T1D; improving access to life-saving T1D technologies; and increasing health system capacity for mental health support for those living with T1D. Investment in these areas will be sure to bring treatments to patients faster, while improving the lives of people living with T1D today, until there is a cure.
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