A Q&A with Dr. Emma Hamilton-Williams, an ENDIA Early-Mid Career Science Accelerator Award Recipient

Dr. Emma Hamilton-Williams

Helmsley-and JDRF-supported Investigator
The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute

In July 2021, the Helmsley Charitable Trust and JDRF Australia announced the recipients of the Environmental Determinants of Islet Autoimmunity (ENDIA) Early-Mid Career Science Accelerator Awards. We spoke with Dr. Emma Hamilton-Williams, who was one of three exceptional researchers to receive funding from Helmsley and JDRF Australia to support her new project.

Tell us about your research and what you’re focusing on.

Dr. Emma Hamilton-Williams: My research is investigating a link between the bacteria living in our gut (microbiota) and the early initiation of the events leading to the disease. We know that Type 1 diabetes (T1D) has been increasing for many years, which means that something about our modern lifestyle is increasing disease risk. Many of the factors researchers think may play a role are related to diet or infection or early-life events.

What outcome are you hoping for from your research and how may it help prevent T1D?

Dr. Emma Hamilton-Williams: In this project, we are using faecal samples collected from the children in the ENDIA study to analyze the proteins produced by the intestine and from the bacteria in the gut in children at risk of T1D. This means, we can use these samples to learn about intestinal barrier function as well as what the bacteria are doing before and during the initiation of autoimmunity. This will help to find evidence as to whether disturbed intestinal function occurs prior to the start of disease (giving it the right timing to be part of the ‘trigger’ of T1D).

What is special about the ENDIA study? Why does it offer hope in the fight to prevent T1D?

Dr. Emma Hamilton-Williams: The ENDIA study is special in many ways. One of the most important is it is tracking the environmental and lifestyle factors that may be linked to progression of T1D starting from pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood in this group of children with higher risk of the disease. Never before has this very early time period (pregnancy and young babies) been studied to try to identify the environmental triggers or risk factors linked to future T1D with such a large number of children.

What has it been like collaborating on a project like this with JDRF Australia, Helmsley, and your fellow researchers in Australia?

It has been a huge pleasure collaborating on such a large-scale project. I get to meet and exchange ideas with researchers all over Australia. JDRF Australia and Helmsley are very supportive organizations and looking to support up and coming researchers as well as more established groups. This is helping to expand and grow this research area, particularly important for the younger scientists.

Read our Q&As with the other two recipients of this award, Dr. Ki Wook Kim and Dr. Megan Penno, here and here.