Helmsley's Big Give to Scale Up Diabetes Data Effort

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust is waging a broad fight against type 1 diabetes, giving to find new technologies for treatment, programs for patients, as well as research toward a cure. Back in January, it made a big gift squarely in the research realm: a $3.3 million grant to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and University of Florida in support of research by the Network for the Pancreatic Organ Donor with Diabetes (nPOD). That’s a high-tech tissue bank that’ll make tissue samples from T1D patients available to any and all researchers who want it. It’s a huge treasure trove of information that’s been made accessible by HCT.

Now, the HCT is seriously upping the ante with an ambitious $8.7 million grant to help broaden the reach of the T1D Exchange program, a program that was initially started by Helmsley. It was launched in 2009 with the goal of creating a comprehensive platform for type 1 diabetes researchers, clinicians and patients—the kind of platform that would improve care and accelerate the discovery and development of treatments. Six years in, it makes sense to convey this program to Unitio, a new nonprofit specifically designed to leverage emerging technologies to aid patient engagement and cooperation between research and medical communities seeking new treatment. Unitio says about the T1D Exchange: "By connecting the experience of living with type 1 diabetes to the data about the disease, T1D Exchange is realizing the dream of personalized medicine."

The big money from Helmsley includes a two-to-one matching component for any gift of at least $1,000, up to a total of $2.5 million.

This all lines up with how Helmsley takes on diabetes. It has a real institutional soft spot for suffering, it seems, and always seems to make its gifts with a thoughtfully zoomed-out focus on the forest, not the trees. It's utilitarian, in a way. So naturally, giving to expand the T1D Exchange fits right into this—it’s patient-centric, and has the potential to reach lots and lots of people.

"Our model is driving faster, more-informed research that will reduce the physical, financial, and psychological burden of living with T1D," said T1D Exchange co-founder and Executive Director Dana Ball. "Success in the next stage of growth will require adding to our already strong organizational expertise and experience, which this support from the Helmsley Charitable Trust will make possible."