The mood was celebratory. The miles covered considerable. The mission remains as urgent as ever. Hailing from all 50 states, 180 JDRF Advocates traveled to Washington D.C., this week to say, “Thank You,” to Congress, during JDRF 2018 Government Day.
Our attitude? Gratitude for the Special Diabetes Program
In February, Congress passed the remainder of a two-year, $300 million renewal of the Special Diabetes Program (SDP), which funds critical type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. This brings total program funding to T1D research to $2.8 billion.
This latest renewal, which runs through September 2019, represents a hard-won victory for the T1D community. For 18 months, our advocates kept the SDP–and the science it has advanced–top of mind for their elected representatives. And our many champions on Capitol Hill, particularly Senators Collins (R-ME) and Shaheen (D-NH) and Representatives Reed (R-NY) and DeGette (D-CO), kept up their fight to secure SDP funds.
As a direct result of this advocacy, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released 17 requests for applications since February, calling for proposals for new, promising research to fund.
The progress is real
SDP-funded research has profoundly improved everyday life for people with T1D. The SDP funds studies that industry won’t and others can’t, like testing generic drugs that could be repurposed to treat T1D. A number of advocates or their family members use artificial pancreas technology, a concept that was advanced through both SDP and JDRF funding, and became a commercial reality in part because of JDRF’s strong partnership with the FDA.
Many of those who came to Washington D.C. have participated in SDP-funded clinical trials around the country, including studies that screen for autoantibodies that are markers of T1D. We are learning to better understand how the disease progresses from genetic risk to symptomatic T1D to better intervene and prevent or delay the process.
“We know through NIH and other funding that there is a strong genetic component to T1D, but other factors play a role in triggering the disease,” said JDRF Chief Mission Officer Aaron J. Kowalski, Ph.D. “SDP-funded trials are helping us better understand what triggers the autoimmune attack.”
Whether in their home Districts or in the nation’s capital, our volunteers are all in for JDRF—meeting Members of Congress and their staffers in person, writing letters and sharing their personal stories of what living with T1D is like. We’re proud of these volunteers who raise their voices, crisscross their states and bring others into the movement to end T1D.
Led by one especially dedicated volunteer each year, our Grassroots Team Leadership Chair, the team moves mountains. This year, outgoing Chair Melinda Rose, of Texas, praised her fellow advocates, “You are the $300 million people.” Her successor Stefanie Sonico told the group, “I’m going to roll on as Chair, and we are going to roll all over T1D.” A registered nurse and mother to an adult son with T1D, Ms. Sonico added, “My son’s health and our sanity are because of JDRF.”
Every day can be Government Day
JDRF and T1D research have long enjoyed strong bipartisan support from Congress, but our work to secure the next round of SDP funding begins when we return home from Government Day. We all enjoyed our time in the nation’s capital, deepening our relationships with Members of Congress and their staff and telling them about the scientific progress their support of the SDP helps make possible.
The gratitude the T1D community feels toward Congress is heartfelt. Thank you, Congress, and thank you advocates! You are JDRF.
Join us as we advance toward a world without T1D.
JDRF 2018 Government Day was made possible in part by the support of Lilly, Merck and Sanofi.