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Sanford Health Seeks Cure For Type 1 Diabetes

Armen Hareyan's picture

Sanford Health leaders announced the focus of the Sanford Project is curing type 1 diabetes via the body's natural ability to regenerate beta cells. Identified as the attack on one of the greatest health concerns of our time, Sanford Health is dedicating health research resources to cure type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes.

"The concept for the Sanford Project is to focus on a single, pressing healthcare issue and establish a world-class research team to achieve significant progress within a reasonable time period," said Sanford Health Executive Vice President Dave Link. "Through an extensive selection process which outlined specific candidate criteria, Sanford Health has chosen to attack type 1 diabetes by focusing on beta cell regeneration."

Type 1 diabetes currently affects nearly 3 million people in the United States. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. It often strikes during childhood, makes patients dependent on insulin for life and carries the constant threat of devastating complications. Regeneration research focuses on triggering the body to re-grow the insulin-producing beta cells that have been killed by the autoimmune response and to prevent destruction of the newly regenerated cells by the same autoimmune reaction.

"Beta cell regeneration is one of the fastest-growing and most intriguing areas of type 1 diabetes research," stated Ben Perryman, PhD, Sanford Health Vice President of Research. "Through the Sanford Project, our research team will hope to either spur the body to copy existing functioning beta cells or to coax the pancreas to create new ones. When people with the disease have regenerated beta cells, they can begin making their own insulin again. The intent of the Sanford Project will be to focus on bench-side research and closely integrating translational research opportunities with clinical treatment."

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Sanford Health will assemble a team of top researchers to work on the project and plans an investment of $30 million over five to seven years. Additional funding is expected from foundation and industry sources as well as the National Institutes of Health. The core of the research will be conducted in a developing 185-acre research park in the city's growing southwest corridor.

Sanford Health will be partnering in the recruitment of researchers and review of regeneration-related research with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF). JDRF is the world's largest charitable source of funding for research leading to a cure for type 1 diabetes and its complications.

"JDRF welcomes Sanford Health as its very special partner in a shared mission. We both aim to accelerate the discovery, development and delivery of new, life-changing therapies and cures for all who suffer from type 1 diabetes and its complications," said S. Robert Levine, MD, Chairman of the JDRF Clinical Affairs Working Group. "The Sanford Project has great potential to help us keep our promise of a cure. It uniquely affords us [Sanford, JDRF, Burnham and other collaborators] the opportunity to link the critical resources required to bridge all the gaps in translating scientific advances made at the laboratory bench into new drug and device development breakthroughs, and ultimately reach the right patient, at the right time, and every time."

The Sanford Project is one of four initiatives outlined after a transformational gift of $400 million by South Dakota businessman and philanthropist Denny Sanford in 2007. From its inception, the Sanford Project was "designed for results." Viable candidate ideas were assessed based on criteria including: a specific approach to advance new treatments for a disease, a high likelihood of success within a designated time frame and an appropriate and suitable scope to be carried out at Sanford Health.

To select a final disease for the Sanford Project, a committee of leading scientists, named the Advisory Council, met on April 17, 2008. Presentations were heard from leading national experts representing each of the final four candidate ideas which included: lupus, pediatric multiple sclerosis, and cancer caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). The Advisory Council deliberated and presented its guidance and recommendations. Based on these recommendations, the Sanford Health Board of Trustees made its final selection.