Building Trades move us one step closer to a cure for diabetes

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The BC Building Trades Council’s unique partnership with UBC is having a transformative effect on research into a cure for Type 1 diabetes. The UBC research team is working to develop insulin-producing cells from stem cells that will be resistant to rejection.

By Richard Gilbert

The BC Building Trades Council’s unique partnership with UBC is having a transformative effect on research into a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

Over the past 18 years, the BCBT has raised more than $330,000 for charity through its annual golf tournament and DAD’s Day (Dollars Against Diabetes) bucket collection drives.

For the most part, construction workers are able-bodied individuals who have a skill which allows them to earn a pretty decent income,” said Tom Sigurdson, BCBT executive director.

“There is a sense that we are fortunate and we need to look after people who are less fortunate. As an extension of that, we decided decades ago to support diabetes research.”

Bruce Verchere, head of the Childhood Diabetes Laboratories at BC Children’s Hospital and one of Canada’s leading diabetes scientists, said, “It really started when we built this diabetes centre at Children’s Hospital with some support from the federal and provincial government for equipment…We needed matching funds to liberate the government funds, but also to pay for people to operate and maintain the equipment. We had to make sure the staff was trained and the equipment was being used to its maximum extent.”

Verchere received his PhD in physiology from UBC and is a professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the university.

One of the most important uses of the donations from the BCBT goes to experts who train people and operate the high-tech equipment.

“We are using really cool state of the art technology which allows us to integrate single cells of blood from a kid with diabetes,” said Verchere. “Now we are looking at single cells, which involves integrating or looking into the genes and proteins that are made in single cells. We compare cells in healthy and diabetic states in order to try and make new insulin producing cells from stem cells.”

Verchere said one treatment for Type 1 diabetes is to transplant cells, because these people no longer have the cells to make insulin. Transplanting insulin producing cells into patients can have a profound effect, which includes taking people off insulin.

However, transplants don’t last forever and there are not enough organ donors to provide cells for everyone who wants a transplant.

“So, we need new sources, and one of the sources is stem cells,” he said. “We are trying to make new insulin producing cells from stem cells that would be resistant to rejection. We are trying to genetically engineer these cells so they will be protected or last longer once transplanted.”

Donations from the BC Building Trades also provide seed money for research into a cure for diabetes.

“It’s really hard for us to get funding or grants for pilot experiments or wild ideas that might lead to a cure, because you need a lot of data to go to the government for grants,” he said. “I think there is some appeal for that to donors, because they see the new ideas, innovation, and technology that might go to the next level. These initial steps can help jump start or catalyze research.”

More than half of the money generated from these initiatives has been used to support research into childhood diabetes at UBC. The remainder of the money has been donated to Variety–The Children’s Charity, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting children with special needs.

The 19th Annual BC Building Trades Golf Tournament is being held at Hazelmere Golf Course in Surrey on July 19. The tournament organizers have set a fundraising goal this year of $25,000.

For More Information: 

Contact the BC Building Trades office
(778) 397-2220

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