Press release

Dundee researcher awarded £1.5 million to develop type 1 diabetes drugs

Published on 28 March 2023

A researcher at the University of Dundee has been awarded £1.5 million to undertake ground-breaking research into type 1 diabetes.

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Dr James Cantley, from the University’s School of Medicine, has been awarded a Senior Research Fellowship by the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge – a partnership between the Steve Morgan Foundation, Diabetes UK and JDRF. This funding will enable him to regenerate insulin-producing beta cells that are destroyed in type 1 diabetes.

Dr Cantley is one of three researchers across the UK to receive the prestigious Fellowship, made possible by the generous £50 million donation from the Steve Morgan Foundation in the race towards a cure for type 1 diabetes.

“Regenerating beta cells in the pancreas has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of type 1 diabetes, by replacing cells destroyed by the immune attack, and ultimately leading to stable blood sugar levels and a life free from insulin injections,” said Dr Cantley. “However, there are many obstacles to developing successful therapeutic strategies.

“To overcome these, I have put together an ambitious, future-focused project and an outstanding international team of scientists which, with the support and funding from the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, will enable us to focus on our mission of identifying new strategies to drive beta cell regeneration in the pancreas. We are on the cusp of a new era of type 1 diabetes treatment, and I can’t wait to see where this research takes us.”

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. This means the pancreas can no longer produce insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels. Up to 400,000 people in the UK are living with type 1 diabetes, including almost 35,000 in Scotland.

Dr Cantley aims to develop new treatments that will encourage insulin-producing beta cells to grow in people with type 1 diabetes. This could help people make their own insulin again without the body rejecting the beta cells which is a risk with transplanted ‘foreign’ beta cells.

Dr Cantley will explore how beta cells form in the womb and will investigate promising drugs designed to reactivate this process in the pancreas of adults with type 1 diabetes. He will also research potential ways to clone beta cells that have survived the immune attack that causes type 1 diabetes. These new avenues could open the door for clinical trials into new treatments for people with type 1 diabetes. 

Steve and Sally Morgan, Founders of the Steve Morgan Foundation, said, “We are proud of the Grand Challenge partnership with Diabetes UK and JDRF UK, which aims to accelerate the advancement towards a breakthrough for people living with type 1 diabetes. We are delighted with the appointment of Dr Cantley’s Fellowship and look forward with anticipation to his discoveries and progress.”

Angela Mitchell, National Director, Diabetes Scotland, said, “We are thrilled to announce that Dr Cantley is one of the first scientists to be spearheading the Grand Challenge’s mission to deliver transformational new treatments and bring fresh hope of a cure for everyone living with type 1 diabetes.

“Dr Cantley’s innovative research could lead to exciting new treatments to regenerate beta cells that are destroyed by the immune system in type 1 diabetes, restoring the function of the pancreas. We look forward to seeing how Dr Cantley’s discoveries will drive radical change for people with type 1 diabetes.” 

Rachel Connor, Director of Research Partnerships at JDRF UK, said, “Dr Cantley’s Senior Research Fellowship provides a unique opportunity to explore how to encourage beta cells to grow back in people who have type 1 diabetes. His ambitious project focuses on developing a therapy to trigger healthy regeneration of these vital cells, so that people with type 1 diabetes can once again make their own insulin.

“A therapy that could restore insulin production would mean people with type 1 no longer have to constantly walk the tightrope of high and low glucose levels, freeing them from the burdens of intensive self-management of glucose levels, while avoiding the current downsides of transplantation therapies such as life-long immune suppression.”

The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge was established following the Steve Morgan Foundation’s generous £50 million donation into type 1 diabetes research. Over five years the Grand Challenge is funding research with the greatest potential to lead to life-changing new treatments and ultimately a cure for type 1 diabetes.

Notes to editors

About JDRF
JDRF is the leading global organisation funding type 1 diabetes research. Our mission is to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat type 1 diabetes and its complications. To accomplish this, JDRF has invested more than £1 billion since our inception. We collaborate with the most talented minds to develop and deliver a pipeline of innovative therapies to people living with type 1 diabetes. Our staff and volunteers around the globe are dedicated to campaigning for our vision of a world without type 1 diabetes. 

For more information, please visit or follow us on Twitter: @JDRFUK.

About Diabetes UK
Diabetes UK’s aim is creating a world where diabetes can do no harm. Diabetes is the most devastating and fastest growing health crisis of our time, affecting more people than any other serious health condition in the UK - more than dementia and cancer combined. There is currently no known cure for any type of diabetes. With the right treatment, knowledge and support people living with diabetes can lead a long, full and healthy life. For more information about diabetes and the charity’s work, visit

About the Steve Morgan Foundation 
Founded in 2001 by Steve Morgan CBE, to support projects that help children and families, people with physical or learning disabilities, the elderly, or those that are socially disadvantaged in North Wales, Merseyside and Cheshire. Assets of £300m committed since 2001.

The Steve Morgan Foundation founder Steve Morgan, and his wife and SMF Trustee Sally Morgan, are driven by their personal connection with the condition. Sally’s son Hugo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of seven. Through this pioneering partnership with Diabetes UK and JDRF UK, they are committed to creating a step-change in type 1 diabetes research, improving the lives of up to 400,000 people in the UK, their families and carers, and the lives of those around the world living with or caring for someone with type 1 diabetes.


Grant Hill

Senior Public Affairs Officer

+44 (0)1382 384768