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Can T1D Scientists and Cancer Researchers Learn From Each Other? You Bet

November 27, 2018

You might be surprised to learn that there is an overlapping biology of cancer immunity and other autoimmune disorders. Our type 1 diabetes researchers aren’t!

JDRF International hosted its first major workshop in North America on the topic of common mechanisms of autoimmunity earlier this year. The workshop was titled “Revisiting Autoimmunity: Can we use Novel Trials and Technologies to Gain New Insights?” and convened a group of experts from the autoimmune disorder and immune-oncology communities, including scientific expertise from academia, disease-specific foundations and industry partners.

The group was tasked with discussing advances in cancer and autoimmune disease immunotherapy and compelling technological advances, which could lead to common opportunities to better understand key autoimmunity processes and to develop new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of T1D and other autoimmune disorders.

Attendees praised JDRF for bringing together a high calibre group of experts with complementary interests to engage in open dialogue and to think outside the box. The setting allowed the group to talk about agreeable and controversial topics – while identifying common and compelling avenues to move forward. The meeting was a great launching pad for further conversations amongst groups that have typically not interacted in an integrated way before. Importantly, it was clear that the autoimmune features of some of the side effects of checkpoint immunotherapy in cancer trials have captured the attention of multiple groups across both fields. JDRF intends to facilitate continuation of these discussions towards developing one or more high impact cross-functional projects, hopefully in partnership with other stakeholders, including existing and hopefully new funding partners.

The participants of this workshop acknowledged that given the complexity of these diseases, no one entity alone can solve the problem of treating autoimmune disorders, but that together, scientific communities make much faster progress.

Closer to home

The topic of common mechanisms of autoimmunity has been close to JDRF for several years and previous workshops with similar themes have unfolded around the globe by JDRF affiliates and partners.

Here at JDRF Australia we strongly promote cross-collaboration between disciplines, it’s even a mandatory part of the application process for some of our research funding! Our researchers include not just emerging and senior leading type 1 diabetes researchers, but rheumatologists, cancer researchers, heart regeneration and reproductive biology researchers, nanoscientists, physicists, molecular biology specialists and psychologists.

We have a strong relationship with MS Research Australia (multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease) and funded a project that found common genetic links between MS and T1D. By working closely in alliance with a like-minded organisation such as MSRA, our impact is multiplied through shared expertise, resources and passion.

You may have heard of Professor Ranjeny Thomas. She is a rheumatologist who has made significant advances in treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. She’s now brought all that knowledge over to T1D to try and get the same outcomes of prevention and better treatment.

One of JDRF’s key discovery research areas is immune therapies, which is uncovering how the immune system works and what makes it turn on healthy cells. It is likely that this information from T1D will benefit other autoimmune diseases too, and vice versa.  About 25% of people with T1D will also be diagnosed with another autoimmune disease so it is essential we continue to work together to uncover common links and solutions to improve the lives of people living with autoimmune diseases.