Parker Institute, JDRF and Helmsley Charitable Trust Form New Research Initiative

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By : dLife Editors

Immunotherapy has become a first-line treatment for several types of cancer. Over time, however, researchers have observed that some patients develop autoimmune disorders following cancer immunotherapy.

After treatment with checkpoint inhibitors, for example, roughly 1% develop a kind of insulin-dependent diabetes that appears similar to Type 1 diabetes, according to research published in the journal Diabetes.

Now the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, JDRF and the Helmsley Charitable Trust are coming together to study how and why insulin-dependent diabetes sometimes occurs following checkpoint inhibitor treatment for cancer.

The three nonprofits will jointly fund $10 million in autoimmunity research over a three-year period.

“The clinical success of immune checkpoint inhibitors such as ipilimumab, nivolumab, and pembrolizumab has changed the face of cancer therapy, extending the lives of patients who previously had few choices,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bluestone, Parker Institute CEO, and president. “In rare cases, these patients develop insulin-dependent diabetes, and nobody truly understands how or why.”

Bluestone said in putting together this research initiative, the organizations hope to answer key questions that will help predict and prevent autoimmunity following immunotherapy treatment in the future.

“This is of increasing importance as more patients are being treated with checkpoint inhibitors and other immunotherapies,” he added.

There is hope that this autoimmunity research collaboration could also shed light on the causes of T1D in the broader population.

About 1.25 million people in the United States have Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder that develops when the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells are mistakenly destroyed by the body’s immune system. As a result, a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood-sugar levels.

“We know little about the causes of Type 1 diabetes in otherwise healthy children and adults,” said Dr. Ben Williams, Helmsley Charitable Trust T1D program officer. “We believe that this research may reveal profound discoveries relevant to all forms of Type 1 diabetes, potentially leading to new biomarkers for detection and treatment.”

Willians said this partnership aligns with Helmsley’s desire to seek out and fund promising, high-risk research that could have a massive impact.

The initiative is a collaboration between leading cancer immunotherapy and diabetes research organizations, coming together for the first time to explore the intersection between these two types of chronic diseases.

“This collaboration combines leading experts in diabetes and cancer immunology to accomplish a feat that has never been achieved: permanently turning off an autoimmune response in humans,” said Dr. Aaron J. Kowalski, JDRF President, and CEO. “Investing in this research will help us better understand, in real time, how Type 1 diabetes develops and potentially disable the immune system so that disease progression never happens.”

Featured image: Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, JDRF and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.


  1. Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, JDRF and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, JDRF, and the Helmsley Charitable Trust Form Cancer and Diabetes Research Initiative. PR Newswire. (2019, May 29). Retrieved: