A new RNA-based approach to target T1D

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Drug-delivery expert Piotr Kowalski, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sets his sights on the pancreas

JDRF unites scientists across diverse fields in pursuit of better outcomes for people with type 1 diabetes (T1D). We actively encourage collaboration through consortia and working groups, and we are equally pleased by unprompted cross-pollination among scientists. Dr. Piotr Kowalski is a perfect example: interacting with his labmates working on biocompatible materials for T1D therapies is what inspired him to apply his experience in drug delivery to the T1D space.

“I realized there is room in type 1 diabetes research for new technologies like delivery of therapeutic RNAs. It hasn’t been tried so far, but I think that delivery of therapeutic RNAs to pancreatic beta cells might enable us to address certain untapped aspects of type 1 diabetes, help with treatment and hopefully bring us closer to finding a cure,” he explains. RNAs are molecules with various biological functions within the body including translating genetic information.

Earlier this year, Dr. Kowalski was awarded a three-year postdoctoral fellowship from JDRF. He plans to develop new, safe materials for packaging therapeutic RNAs into nanoparticles and then tag them with “a molecule acting as a GPS, allowing the nanoparticles to home to beta cells” for delivery. It’s an innovative and challenging approach, however, Dr. Kowalski says, quoting Albert Einstein’s quip, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

Dr. Kowalski understands perfectly why JDRF is “investing in new technologies and convergence, bringing people with different backgrounds, expertise and original ideas to work together.” “This is the only way to beat a disease like type 1 diabetes,” he says.

We agree, and we are excited to have Dr. Kowalski and dozens of other early-career scientists on our team. Meet more of the researchers who are working together to create a world without T1D.

By Monica Harrington