Diabetes is Goliath, and researchers often feel like David. How are we ever going to take down such a huge opponent? Where is the cure?
I want those researchers to focus on the cure. But I also support work that looks into how we can live well alongside the beast that is diabetes.
But I have been seeing a lot of angry comments swirling around the internet regarding support of non-cure based research, especially pertaining to the artificial pancreas.
"We don't want another fancy pump! We want a cure!"
"The artificial pancreas is just another money-making device for big pharma! We want a cure!"
I understand. I have had diabetes for 20 years and would give anything to not have it. I would be delighted to be "out of a job" in caring for kids with Type I. There are few other wishes I use on birthday candles and fallen eyelashes.
But I still have a hard time fully sympathizing with those sentiments.
I gave a lecture this past week to first year medical students. They wanted to learn about the dual-hormone artificial pancreas, but starting there would be like picking up a book and reading the second to last chapter first. I had to start from the beginning to help them really appreciate how significant the artificial pancreas will be.
We went over how doctors did not even know that a lack of insulin was what caused diabetes for the 3,500 years it was recognized as an illness. How people died within a year of diagnosis from starvation until Drs. Banting and Best discovered how to effectively use insulin. How the insulin had to be drawn into glass syringes that had to be sterilized with heat and how the very long, very thick needles had to be hand-sharpened each day. And about how the insulin came from animals, which created a series of side-effects in many patients until human insulin was able to be synthesized. And once we had human insulin, things improved again with fast-acting Humalog/Novolog and long-acting Lantus. Insulin pumps were invented and refined year after year.
We also discussed how the measure of insulin's effectiveness could only be examined through urine, then through cumbersome blood tests, and ultimately with the advent of continuous glucose monitoring.
We have made such amazing strides in the last 90 years, but mostly rapidly within the last 30 years. Lantus came out when I was in high school and completely changed my quality of life -- no more rigid time schedules, no more inflexible meal plans. I felt like my day wasn't dictated by diabetes in nearly the same way it had been for so many years. And when pump technology improved, it changed my life for the better tenfold. And my CGM is the only reason I have been able to maintain the tight control that I'm in now.
It is hard to appreciate how far we've come when all you have known is pumps and CGGs. All of these advancements were only possible through research - in petri dishes, in animals, in humans. Research gave us these gifts.
The development of refined insulin saved millions of lives. But what if we had stopped there and only focused on the cure? We wouldn't have any of the amazing products that help us live well with diabetes today.
The artificial pancreas is going to be the next big life-changer. The preliminary data is astounding, with Dr. Damiano's study giving trial patients projected A1Cs of 6.3% with less work than they put into their diabetes now. Why would we not support this? Researchers are devoting their lives to this work and many have children and other family members with Type 1 Diabetes. They hunger for the cure, too. But they hope to make life with diabetes better in the meantime.
People often mistakenly believe that supporting non-cure based research detracts from finding the cure. There are armies of researchers trying to realize hundreds of different possibilities. Projects are taking place simultaneously all over the world to treat, prevent, AND cure diabetes.
Shouldn't we continue to tackle this beast from all angles? My answer to that question will always be yes.
And in this way, we'll eventually take it down.