Health Hero: Diabetes Researchers

Posted by: | November 2, 2011

Professor Timothy Kieffer

In honour of Diabetes Awareness Month, we are celebrating the work of Professor Timothy Kieffer and his colleagues in the Diabetes Research Group. Diabetes is characterized by elevated blood glucose levels due to insufficient levels of insulin. The amazing research being done by Dr. Kieffer’s “Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Medicine”, a team of about 15-20 researchers, focuses mainly on type 1 diabetes, a debilitating disease that is hard to treat and can shorten a person’s life span by 10-15 years. Type 1 diabetes most commonly starts in children.  Dr.  Kieffer and his colleagues are working to develop an alternative to insulin injections.

As Dr. Kieffer points out, “Insulin was isolated in the 1920s. For 90 years, people have been injecting themselves with insulin; it’s time to develop something better.”  Insulin injections are required several times per day to manage diabetes, meaning that patients with type 1 diabetes face thousands of injections and blood glucose tests each year. According to the World Health Organization, recent estimates are that 366 million people worldwide have type 1 diabetes.

Dr. Kieffer and his team are exploring alternatives to insulin injections by looking at cell engineering, cell transplants and gene therapies.  Their hope is that they can re-establish automatic meal-regulated insulin production within the body to eliminate the need for insulin injections. Dr. Kieffer has been working on diabetes for most of his academic career: he started working in 1994 on diabetes research as part of his PhD, continuing work in the field at Harvard University and the University of Alberta, returning to UBC as a professor in 2002.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA), two million Canadians have type 2 diabetes without knowing. Living with undiagnosed diabetes can shorten your life, so the CDA encourages people to have themselves tested. To learn more about diabetes, visit the CDA website. For more information about type 1 diabetes, the Juvenile Diabetes Association of Canada website is a great resource.

We have many colleagues at UBC with diabetes, diagnosed and undiagnosed. We also have many colleagues who have loved ones with diabetes.  For November, we celebrate the work of researchers like Dr. Kieffer and his colleagues, whose research will hopefully make living with diabetes easier.

This month, the Canadian Diabetes Association is sharing personal stories of those living with diabetes on their website: http://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-awareness-month/people-with-diabetes/  The Juvenile Diabetes Association of Canada has a similar story project on Facebook.

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