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JDRF announces 2008 Scholar Award recipients

August 1, 2008, New York, NY - JDRF said today that it has recognized the work of two top diabetes researchers who are focused on accelerating the pace of science in understanding the autoimmune attack that causes type 1 diabetes, and on preventing or reversing the severe complications of this chronic and life-threatening disease.

The recipients of the third annual Scholar Award are Dr. Jeffrey A. Bluestone, Director of the Diabetes Center at the University of California in San Francisco and Dr. Mark E. Cooper, Director of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia. The most prestigious distinction offered by JDRF, the Scholar Award provides recipients with $250,000 annually for up to five years for their specialized research.

The Scholar Award is granted to individual scientists with a track record of conducting pioneering, creative research and a commitment to conducting transformative research to finding a cure for diabetes and its complications.

"We are thrilled to name Dr. Bluestone and Dr. Cooper as recipients of JDRF's Scholar Award. They both exhibit a unique creative vision and approach to research that will accelerate the JDRF mission," said Dr. Richard Insel, Executive Vice President of Research for JDRF. "We depend on the creativity and excellence of our scientists to continue to accelerate the pace of research leading to a cure."

Dr. Bluestone, who has a long-term commitment to the field of autoimmunity and immune intolerance, received the award for his project, "Role of MicroRNAs in T cell function in Type 1 diabetes." The Scholar Award will allow Dr. Bluestone to explore the function of MicroRNA in regulatory T cells, which are critical for the prevention and control of autoimmune diabetes. MicroRNAs are small RNA molecules that can change gene expression by controlling whether certain proteins can be produced or not.

JDRF funds research to study the genetic and environmental factors that may play a role in causing diabetes, with the goal of developing tools that predict susceptibility to the disease and therapies that slow, reverse, or prevent it altogether. Dr. Bluestone's project will advance knowledge in autoimmunity and accelerate the pace of research JDRF promotes. Steady progress in autoimmunity research will eventually lead to approaches to kill off the majority of the cells that contribute to the cause of type 1 diabetes.

Dr. Cooper received the award for his research project: "Set 7: a novel target for diabetic vascular complications." He plans to study the metabolic memory of cells remembering past glucose levels and in turn, damaging and destroying cells and blood vessels in people with diabetes. He will also investigate the connection between long-term high glucose and diabetic vascular complications through a new mechanism that invokes oxidative stress leading to alterations in gene expression, the penultimate driver of diabetic complications. Central to the new mechanism is the specialized enzyme called Set7, responsible for altering the fine structure of the DNA-protein complexes in our cells. Through their ability to modify the protein component of the complexes, enzymes like Set7 can change whether or not genes are expressed.

Rapidly emerging technologies and a new understanding of why and how complications develop are helping reduce the risk and severity of complications for people with type 1 diabetes. With new methods for detecting complications in their earliest stages and effective strategies for intervention, it is now possible to significantly slow down or delay the most serious consequences of diabetes related complications. Dr. Cooper's project examines diabetic cardiovascular complications and his research will enable people with diabetes to live longer, healthier lives.

Current JDRF Scholars Include:

Dr. Michael Brownlee
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Project: Solving Hyperglycemic Memory: A Critical Obstacle to Curing Type 1 Diabetes

Dr. Michael German
Diabetes Center at the University of California San Francisco
Project: Origins of Proliferative Plasticity in Beta-Cells

Dr. Matthias Hebrok
Diabetes Center at the University of California San Francisco
Project: Molecular Principles of Beta Cell Differentiation and Regeneration

Dr. Matthias von Herrath
La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology
Project: Live Imaging of Islet Destruction

Dr. Anjana Rao
Harvard Medical School
Project: Manipulating T Cell Responses by Targeting Transcription Factors

Dr. Pere Santamaria
Julia McFarlane Diabetes Research Center at the University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine
Project: A Novel Vaccine for the Prevention and Cure of Type 1 Diabetes

Dr. Ann Marie Schmidt
Columbia University Medical Center
Project: Vascular Injury in Type 1 Diabetes A Failure of Repair

Dr. Markus Stoffel
ETH, Zurich (Eidgenssische Technische Hochschule Zrich)
Project: MicroRNAs as Therapeutic Targets for Type 1 Diabetes

Dr. Derek van der Kooy
University of Toronto
Project: Pancreatic Stem Cells


Contact: Jillian Lubarsky
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International

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