Obstacle Course Race Bolsters Type 1 Diabetes Research

Since 2012, the Renegade Run Obstacle Course Race has raised $88,000 for type 1 diabetes research at Mass General’s Faustman Lab.

Tyson Sunnerberg and Paul Foti have found a fun way to support type 1 diabetes research at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Faustman Lab.

It is important to Dr. Faustman that her research reflects the needs of people struggling with the disease.

Their nonprofit organization, Type One, holds an annual obstacle course race and celebration – Renegade Run – to advance awareness about the disease and raise funds for related causes. One of the biggest benefactors has been the immunobiology laboratory run by Denise Faustman, MD, PhD, whose goal perfectly aligns with the nonprofit’s mission: finding a cure for the autoimmune disease type 1 diabetes.

That kind of grassroots support is just what Dr. Faustman needs. Her lab’s clinical trials are not supported by pharmaceutical companies. It is important to Dr. Faustman that her research reflects the needs of people struggling with the disease.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for people like them,” Dr. Faustman says of Mr. Sunnerberg and Mr. Foti. “People are, through their donations, voting for what they want: a better solution to finding a cure for this disease. It’s about the power of the individual.”

Forming a Friendship

Overcoming obstacles is more than a metaphor for Mr. Sunnerberg, a fitness trainer who is living with type 1 diabetes. For diabetics like Mr. Sunnerberg, the immune system attacks the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. When insulin fails to help blood glucose (a kind of blood sugar) become cellular energy, the glucose builds up in the bloodstream. If not controlled, excessive glucose can damage organs and shorten lives.

Type One's Paul Foti (left) and Tyson Sunnerberg
Type One’s Paul Foti (left) and Tyson Sunnerberg

Mr. Sunnerberg learned he had the disease nearly 20 years ago, when he was a junior at the University of Massachusetts. The diagnosis prompted him to start exercising, a habit that led to his career as a fitness trainer. He works at the YMCA in Hanover, Massachusetts, where he met Mr. Foti, a member who needed a trainer.

Forming a fast friendship, the two men participated in Tough Mudder and other endurance events. During one event, Mr. Sunnerberg’s insulin pump fell off at the start of the four-hour competition. Mr. Foti helped him get through the rest of the race.

Creating a Shared Cause

Wanting to challenge themselves further while also raising awareness and money for diabetes care and research, the men held their first Renegade Run in 2012. The eighth Renegade Run was held in October 2019 at Bare Cove Park in Hingham, Massachusetts. It saw more than 1,000 adult competitors overcoming 32 obstacles – including cargo nets and monkey bars – over four miles of wooded terrain. Children tackled a smaller course.

Mr. Sunnerberg and Mr. Foti believe the Faustman Lab has a grounded approach to research that gives the lab an honest chance to reverse type 1 diabetes.

The event raised $25,000 for the Faustman Lab, pushing Type One’s total support of the lab to $88,000. Since inception, Type One has raised more than $100,000 for charitable causes tied to type 1 diabetes care and research, Mr. Sunnerberg says. Type One has helped diabetics who can’t afford diabetic supplies, including insulin, and has awarded summer camp scholarships to children with diabetes.

Mr. Sunnerberg and Mr. Foti believe the Faustman Lab has a grounded approach to research that gives the lab an honest chance to reverse type 1 diabetes. “She’s a humble celebrity, brilliant and funny, and doing great work to find a cure,” Mr. Foti says of Dr. Faustman.

Advancements in Type 1 Diabetes Research

Mass General has been on the forefront of medical discovery and innovation for more than 200 years. Today, experts continue to break new ground in medical research, developing new treatments, techniques and technologies that touch millions of lives.

Denise Faustman, MD, PhD
Denise Faustman, MD, PhD

In 2018, research findings at the Faustman Lab showed that use of an inexpensive, generic preventative vaccine made for tuberculosis – bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) – stopped the abnormal immune response in those with type 1 diabetes. As outlined by the journal npj Vaccines, patients treated with BCG had normal blood sugar levels after an eight-year testing trial. Dr. Faustman is awaiting FDA approval to expand BCG testing on adults and conduct testing, for the first time, on children.

Type One’s Renegade Run has been notable, Dr. Faustman says, because unlike most medical fundraisers, it attracts people without a direct connection to diabetes. She knew the event was a hit when, at a dinner, an acquaintance rolled up his pant leg to show a scar he had from an injury suffered on the Renegade Run obstacle course. “That’s what makes this group unique,” she says.

To support the research of Dr. Faustman, please contact us.

For more information about community fundraising for Mass General, please visit our BeCause website.