What does a diabetes “cure” look like to you? Here are my thoughts on diabetes cure research after following the papers presented at the ADA’s 78th Scientific Sessions.
Type 1 diabetes has been documented for thousands of years, going all the way back to Egyptian times. In fact, diabetes was described by those living in ancient Egypt, China, India, and Greece.
Development of type 1 diabetes has historically been a death sentence. The only way to delay death was to go on a starvation diet, a diet which was incredibly restrictive and shrunk kids down to skin and bones.
Then, about a century ago, Banting began thinking about what caused diabetes and how it might be cured.
In 1921 Banting and Best “discovered” insulin. I put the word discovered in quotes because it wasn’t like a hidden treasure found on some remote beach, it took years of work to develop insulin that could be injected into humans to stabilize their blood glucose levels.
Insulin was hailed as a “cure” for diabetes. Given that, at the time, it was insulin or death, insulin could definitely have been considered a cure.
But over this past century there have been many developments in the treatment of type 1 diabetes including disposable syringes that don’t need to be boiled or sharpened before use, home blood glucose meters that give a reading in seconds rather than minutes, and newer technology such as insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors (CGM), and countless smartphone apps that help with “diabetes math.”
But none of these are a cure.
We have long hoped that there will be an artificial/bionic pancreas (AP) that is available, accessible, and affordable by the time our daughter goes off to college. The AP has the potential to automate many of the diabetes tasks and dozens of decisions that must be made every day. It may help ease the burden of diabetes on my child and may help ease our worries as she leaves the nest and must fully self-manage navigating the dorm cafeteria, class schedules, and newfound freedoms of college life.
(Read The AAA’s of Diabetes Management where I talk about the need for treatments to be available, accessible, and affordable.)
But the artificial pancreas is not a cure.
I truly believe that the AP will reduce burden and will help keep people with type 1 diabetes the healthiest they can be until there is a cure.
So what do I consider a cure?
I consider a true biological cure one that would restore function of the beta cells, producing insulin, maintaining non-diabetic “normal” blood glucose levels, and without major side effects.
No more insulin injections.
No more carb counting.
No more BG checks.
No more glucagon.
No more high and low blood sugars.
No more buying juice boxes by the dozens.
No more schlepping a supply bag everywhere we go.
No more falling short each and every day as we try our best to do the work of a complex biological system.
I don’t normally talk about “the cure” here on D-Mom Blog for the simple reason that with or without a cure, my daughter is whole in spite of her diabetes. Of course, I welcome a cure and would take away her diabetes in an instant if I could, but I have chosen not to make the elusive cure the focus of our family’s life with diabetes. A true biological cure may or may not come in her lifetime, so my focus has always been making sure that she lives her best life with the tools and knowledge we have at our disposal right now.
I support cure research, development of the artificial pancreas, government efforts such as the Special Diabetes Program, and the many different treatments and technologies that may come down the pike.
But I haven’t put all my eggs in one basket because who knows in what form a cure will eventually come.
This past week as I followed along with the announcements made by the various pharmaceutical companies and device makers at the annual American Diabetes Association Scientific Meetings, I looked on with caution and knew that no true biological cure, as I personally define it, would be announced or unveiled.
(Dr. Denise Faustman’s research on the bacillus Calmette Guérin (BCG) vaccine that was presented this past week made me ponder what a diabetes cure would really look like to me. Read the “Joint Statement from the American Diabetes Association and JDRF” regarding Dr. Denise Faustman’s presentation at the ADA’s 78th Scientific Sessions.)