Latest On The Sanford Project: Clinical Trial Studying Type 1 Diabetes In Children

Scientist: 'My goal is for them to have as normal of a life as they can.'

On Saturday, hundreds of people will gather at the Sanford Research Center in Sioux Falls to help in the effort to create a world without Type 1 Diabetes. Ahead of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Walk, we’re looking at the advances taking place at Sanford Health.

In 2007, Denny Sanford provided a gift of $400 million to help fund several initiatives. Out of it, came The Sanford Project with the objective to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.              

Director of Clinical Trials and Scientist Dr. Kurt Griffen said, “Once you have it, it’s pretty far along. You’ve already probably killed off around 85 percent of the cells that make insulin and that’s a point where it’s pretty hard to undo.”

In their most recent clinical trial called the T-Rex Study, researchers are studying whether a child’s own cells can fight the disease.

“It’s a disease for which we have a treatment, which is insulin, but it comes with a really heavy cost; not just financial, but the psychosocial aspects of it,” said Griffin. “It takes a tremendous toll on these families, on these kids, and my goal is for them to have as normal of a life as they can.”

As part of the trial, researchers are trying to expand T-Rex or Regulatory Treg cells, which are supposed to stop the immune system from attacking beta cells that produce insulin. Treg cells are collected from the child’s blood, grown and expanded in a lab, and returned back into their blood. The hope is to re-balance the immune system and preserve the beta cells that are still left in the body.

Griffin said, “We had, you know, a lot of ways we can cure the mouse diabetes, none of which have really worked in people so the real answer is you have to be working with people and testing it there.”

Unfortunately, these types of trials take time. The project will follow up with the children for a year or two. Hopefully, within that time, they’ll start to see something remarkable.

Participants in the T-Rex Study are 12 to 17-years-old and at the time were diagnosed with the autoimmune disease within the past 100 days. Sanford enrolled it’s first patient in March and now has four participants, with several others in the screening process.

During the JDRF Walk on Saturday, Sanford will also be looking for participants for a prevention study called TrialNet.