Chance discovery linking diet to type 1 diabetes started whole new field of research

Dr. Fraser Scott is receiving the Grimes Research Career Achievement Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to diabetes research.

October 22, 2018

In the early 1980’s, Dr. Fraser Scott was conducting nutritional studies on rats that were supposed to develop type 1 diabetes—except they didn’t. He discovered that changing the diet of these diabetes-prone rodents had prevented the disease. Making this connection between diet and diabetes was a ground-breaking discovery.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the person’s own immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. This destroys the body's ability to make insulin, resulting in extreme elevations in blood sugar levels. Insulin injections only partially control blood sugar, which means that people with type 1 diabetes still face many health challenges related to heart, kidney and eye disease.

Dr. Scott made his initial discovery while working at Health Canada and he continued to build on it when he became a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital in 1999. His team discovered that diabetes-prone rats had abnormally strong immune reactions to wheat proteins, and so did a majority of people with diabetes whom they tested.  Additional studies identified a wheat protein that can stimulate an abnormal immune response in some individuals. 

 “The largest number of immune cells in our body is in our gastrointestinal tract,” said Dr. Scott, who is also a professor at the University of Ottawa. “We made the link a number of years ago that diet is having a strong influence on the gut immune system. Some of those immune cells travel through the pancreas and can be found near the structures that contain the cells that produce insulin.”

His more recent work has focused on how very early life challenges in the pancreas and liver precede and promote the development of diabetes

Dr. Scott has published 105 papers, many of which have appeared in top-ranked journals. He has also given over 114 presentations on his work and has received many prestigious awards. He has also chaired the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute’s Research Day for many years, giving research trainees a chance to showcase their accomplishments. As well, he has been a strong mentor to the more than 40 junior researchers he has trained.

Jennifer Crookshank, a senior research technician in Dr. Scott’s lab for the last 15 years, is one of those. She said, “Dr. Scott has been a wonderful mentor, fostering a collaborative approach and allowing everyone in the lab a chance to grow."

 Dr. Scott’s original research contributions rank him among the top Canadian diabetes researchers. He is also recognized internationally as a leader in his field.

“I keenly appreciate the research accomplishments of Dr. Scott in helping us to understand the factors that lead to type 1 diabetes,” said Dr. Alexander Sorisky, Director of the Chronic Disease Program of research at The Ottawa Hospital and an endocrinologist who treats patients with diabetes. “Dr. Scott’s work holds the promise for the development of new approaches to prevent and treat this condition.”

Dr. Scott is receiving the 2018 Grimes Research Career Achievement Award from The Ottawa Hospital, in recognition of his outstanding achievements and contributions to research.

Dr. Scott’s research is possible because of generous donations to The Ottawa Hospital. His lab has also been supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada, the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Cure Diabetes (Ottawa).

About The Ottawa Hospital: Inspired by research. Driven by compassion: The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals with over 1,100 beds, approximately 12,000 staff and an annual budget of over $1.2 billion. Our focus on research and learning helps us develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. As a multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, we deliver specialized care to the Eastern Ontario region, but our techniques and research discoveries are adopted around the world. We engage the community at all levels to support our vision for better patient care. See for more information about research at The Ottawa Hospital.

About the University of Ottawa —A crossroads of cultures and ideas: The University of Ottawa is home to over 50,000 students, faculty and staff, who live, work and study in both French and English. Our campus is a crossroads of cultures and ideas, where bold minds come together to inspire game-changing ideas. We are one of Canada’s top 10 research universities—our professors and researchers explore new approaches to today’s challenges. One of a handful of Canadian universities ranked among the top 200 in the world, we attract exceptional thinkers and welcome diverse perspectives from across the globe.

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Jennifer Ganton
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Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Office: 613-798-5555 x 73325
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