in Diabetes Research
For nine-year-old Chloe Jarrat, being outfitted with an artificial pancreas during a weeklong clinical trial was a rare opportunity to experience a stable blood sugar level that allowed her to play and eat like a normal child. An advocate for diabetes research, her mom, Amanda Jarrat, is now hungry to find a cure and grateful for the trial. “What they’re working on at UVA is life-changing, and I don’t think everyone knows that,” Jarrat said. “It was like having access to a miracle for a week.”
A little more than ten years ago, businessman and investor Paul Manning decided to take a chance on something different. Not a company or a new product, Manning made an investment in UVA medical research. Today, that investment, the LaunchPad for Diabetes Innovation Fund, is paying off with research to benefit generations of future patients.
The basic idea was simple. Gather the most dedicated investigators in diabetes research and invest in their most promising projects. Invest early, because that’s when researchers have the greatest challenge in attracting external grant support, including National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. Putting the plan in place was a bit more challenging, involving the creation of a scientific panel—a means of peer review—to select projects annually for LaunchPad investment.
Today, the Manning family’s overall investment of $3.3 million has generated support across Grounds for 36 projects in 22 departments. The projects have resulted in 25 active patent applications, attracted more than $7.76 million in outside funding, and earned $17 million from UVA’s Strategic Investment Fund.
The potential for future patients is great. Research under the direction of transplant surgeon José Oberholzer, for example, could give diabetes investigators worldwide access to an efficient way to test islet cells for effectiveness in humans. When the transplanted cell function work as planned, many patients can live without insulin injections or medications.
“Diabetes affects almost 30 million people in the U.S.,” said Oberholzer. “One of the great aspects of the LaunchPad is that projects can get funded quickly. You have a thorough and competitive peer review, but then it moves fast. Initiatives like the LaunchPad are accelerators of research, and that’s important for so many future patients.”
Pediatrician Mark DeBoer, who has used LaunchPad for clinical trials aimed at customizing an automated insulin pump for young children, agreed.
“The LaunchPad is a really important mechanism for getting funding for early-stage research,” said DeBoer. “Getting funding from the NIH always requires preliminary data. LaunchPad gives us preliminary data to get future grants. It’s really a lifeline for our research.”
A new $525,000 gift for 2018-19 from Manning adds critical momentum to ongoing LaunchPad efforts and opens the door to new, innovative research. “Our goal with LaunchPad is to inspire these scientists,” said Manning. “If we can support them in their early science, we give them a chance to mature their research. Then, they can gain additional capital from NIH and other sources.”