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INNODIA Young Scientist Award: exciting science, explained with clarity

The prize is intended to encourage young scientists, and to spread the word about INNODIA and INNODIA diabetes research

Screenshot Pieter Jan Martens prizewinner
Pieter Jan Martens won first prize for his video explainer about his work on promising therapies for type 1 diabetes


The projects INNODIA and INNODIA HARVEST launched the Young Scientists Award in order to reward young researches at the early stages of their careers who have demonstrated excellence in INNODIA-related research. The award was open to all scientists under the age of 40 who are working in INNODIA and INNODIA HARVEST, anywhere in Europe.

The young scientists were asked to explain the work they do in a one-minute video, and one of the most important requirements was the ability to explain their activities in lay language. The project hopes that the award will encourage starting scientists to showcase their work and to name the challenges they face in diabetes research.

The jury consisted of the patient advisory committee members. Here are the prize-winning videos:

Gold prize winner: Pieter Jan Martens, KU Leuven

“Combining knowledge and resources leads to synergy”

Pieter Jan Martens is a PhD student in the laboratory of Professor Dr Chantal Mathieu at KU Leuven in Belgium. Having completed his studies in medicine in 2017, he went in to specialise in internal medicine. His work focuses on the prevention and, he hopes, the cure of type 1 diabetes, via immune interventions in mice.

In type 1 diabetes, our own immune system attacks the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. “We are using promising new therapies to try to avert this harmful attack caused by our own defense system. I work specifically in mice that are genetically highly prone to developing type 1 diabetes in a similar disease mechanism as seen in humans. One of our main research projects is the combination of verapamil, a well-known antihypertensive drug, and anti-thymocyte globulin (a kind of antibodies) in mice that have recently developed type 1 diabetes.”

The researchers are building on two clinical trials that are currently running within INNODIA: the VER-A-T1D trial, which is based on the recent findings that verapamil can protect the insulin producing cells in the pancreas, and the MELD-ATG trial, in which anti-thymocyte globulin is used to avert the harmful attack caused by the own defense systems.

“Both of these approaches work in different ways, and we hope that the result would not just be the sum of both monotherapies, but that the combination would have a synergistic effect. In mice that have recently developed type 1 diabetes, we saw that the combination of both therapies is both safe and three-to-four times more effective than either of the monotherapies.

“We are very excited about these results because it implies that there must be a synergistic effect and we are currently investigating the exact mechanism of action. I believe our research on combination therapy is like what we see happening in INNODIA, where the combination of knowledge and resources also leads to synergy in the pursuit of finding a cure for type 1 diabetes.”

Pieter's video



Silver prize winner: Jess Hill, Exeter University

‘’Analysing the messages sent between the pancreas and the immune system prior to clinical diagnosis can inform therapeutic strategies in type 1 diabetes research.’’  

Jess Hill has been working with Prof Sarah Richardson and Prof Noel Morgan at the University of Exeter to better understand the crosstalk between the pancreas and the immune system. With access to the Exeter Archival Diabetes Biobank, an invaluable resource in type 1 diabetes research, she has been working to identify proteins that correlate with levels of inflammation within individuals with the disease, across a range of different ages. “I have taken this work further by identifying and isolating extracellular vesicles (EV) released from pancreatic cells in vitro, to analyse which proteins they carry that function to delay and halt an immune assault.”

“I find this work incredibly interesting because this type of EV biomarker (i.e. liquid biopsy) is currently being used to identify early signs of cancer and I have been working to translate this knowledge into type 1 diabetes research. I hope my research can contribute to the wider field by expanding our knowledge of how the pancreas can defend itself against the immune attack, and how we might be able to take on the role of ‘postal carriers’ by intercepting messages from the pancreas that will tell us when the immune system becomes active before clinical diagnosis.”

Jess's video


Bronze prize winner: Gisele Silva Boos, Helmholz Institute, Munich

“This will open new opportunities for therapeutic intervention by nutritional and/or pharmacological means”

Gisele Silva Boos was born in Brazil and moved to Germany for her PhD in 2014, where she took a post at the Helmholtz Zentrum Munich as a post-doctoral researcher. Gisele’s work focusses on the links between gut microbiota, genes, and the development of type one diabetes.

“It’s known that genetic background, environmental factors, and the immune system play a key role in type one diabetes, and alterations in the composition and diversity of the microbial populations in the gut have been observed in individuals who go on to develop the disease.” Reduced integrity of the gut barrier is also observed in pre- and recently-diagnosed diabetic individuals. “We propose that the underlying genetic predisposition to type 1 diabetes promotes the disruption of immune tolerance. This might lead to the dysregulation of the mucosal barrier in the gut and the development of antigen-specific cells with potential to kill beta cells.”

“We aim to test these hypotheses by assessing whether the gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is abnormal in type 1 diabetes, and whether the immune cell repertoire and T cell specificities present in the gut are similar to those found in the pancreas. This will open new opportunities for therapeutic intervention by nutritional and/or pharmacological means, as well as for the development of therapies that target antigen-specific cells aimed at re-educating the immune system and stopping the attack to beta cells.”

“It has been a challenging time but I am enjoying it (a lot) since day one!”

Gisele's video


Read more


Spot it, slow it, and stop it: trials of potential diabetes drugs to get underway


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