Why support diabetes research

Less than one hundred years ago, Type 1 diabetes was a mysterious, daunting disease. Parents watched their children’s health quickly deteriorate as they awaited their inevitable early demise. By the early 20th century, medical advancements, stemming from intensive research, completely transformed the fate of people living with Type 1 diabetes.

In 1889, upon removing and then replacing the pancreas of a dog, scientists found that that the pancreas played a major role in preventing high blood glucose, paving the way for future diabetes treatment advancements. One of these major advancements came over thirty years later in 1921-22, radically changing the lives of thousands: the discovery and purification of animal insulin. While this insulin greatly increased the lifespan of those with Type 1, it caused painful allergic reactions in some because of its foreign origin from pigs and cows. However, by 1978, researchers discovered how to create synthetic human insulin from E. coli bacteria, allowing increased insulin absorption without the allergic side effects.

Before the introduction of the disposable syringe in 1956, and then insulin pens in the 1980s, needles for insulin injections were commonly sharpened at home with a grinding stone. Since 1990, insulin pens can even be replaced by an external insulin pump, allowing people with T1D more freedom and control.

The first successful pancreas transplant occurred in the University of Minnesota Hospital in 1966. Pancreas transplants have provided a life-saving option for those with Type 1 diabetes with extremely poor health, and they have continued progressing in refinement, with better surgical techniques and the development of improved immunosuppressant drugs.

Unfortunately, despite the advancements, the long-term complications of Type 1 diabetes are numerous. Research, however, has been effectively diminishing their severity. In 1966, a laser treatment was developed that changed retinopathy care, a common cause of blindness with those who have diabetes. The A1C test, developed in 1976, assesses overall control of blood glucose over a span of three months, thereby showing the effectiveness of a treatment plan.

A modern-day person with diabetes can utilize resources and that wouldn’t have been possible without scientific research. Medical treatments have gone from starvation diets to compact, portable devices that control, measure and track blood glucose levels every second of the day.

Diabetes research is relatively young yet is advancing exponentially. The life of a person diagnosed with diabetes in the last decade and someone diagnosed fifty years ago is incomparable. A cure would mean liberation for people with Type 1 diabetes from constant injections, constant monitoring, and constant worry. However, it is completely unattainable without outside support. Diabetes is one of the most prevalent diseases in the United States with a multitude of costly and life-threatening complications.  Unfortunately, research for this disease still remains one of the least funded by the national government.

In order to be successful, in order to change and save lives, diabetes research requires funding. When someone supports an organization that funds research, they become a part of positive change. Support of scientific research has already transformed the world we live in: we have already cured many of the devastating diseases of the 20th century such as polio and smallpox. Be a part of the profound scientific evolution that is occurring in the 21st century. Supporting diabetes research isn’t just funding scientists and laboratories — it’s providing hope for the millions of children and adults affected by this chronic illness.

Disease prevalence versus funding

Diabetes only receives 3% of the total funding from the NIH (National Institute of Health), compared to cancer (16%) and HIV/AIDS (9%). However, there are 29 million people living with diabetes in the US, compared to 1.2 million living with HIV/AIDS and 13.4 million living with either a current or past experience with cancer. With these statistics, The NIH spends around $38 each year per person with diabetes, $417 per person with HIV/AIDS, and $2,583 per person with cancer.

Short-term complications

In addition to long-term major complications, immediate dangers may occur if a person with Type 1 diabetes has low or high blood glucose levels. These include the following:

  • Severe Hypoglycemia: extremely low blood sugars can cause seizures, loss of consciousness or death. Death from unrecognized low blood sugar upon going to sleep accounts for 6% of all deaths in people with Type 1 diabetes under forty-years old.
  • Ketoacidosis: If someone with T1D does not receive insulin, the body will break down fat to produce energy, releasing ketones into the bloodstream. When ketone levels become too high, diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) can cause vomiting and dehydration, and even cause one to fall into a coma.

Long-term complications of Type 1

People with Type 1 diabetes may have access to insulin and blood glucose monitors, but such treatment still cannot completely prevent future complications. Common complications include:

  • Eye disease: diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in diabetics. High blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the back of the eye, eventually causing vision loss.
  • Kidney disease: High blood sugar levels overwork the kidneys filtration system. A damaged filter allows waste products to build up in the blood, and the kidneys begin to fail (end-stage renal disease).
  • Nerve damage: Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy can range from pain to complete numbness in the legs or feet, causing severe disabling.
  • Heart disease: people with Type 1 diabetes have four times the risk of suffering a heart attack.

Everyday management of Type 1

To avoid long-term and short-term health risks, Type 1 diabetes must be managed diligently. People with T1D may have a specialized treatment plan, however, there are certain consistencies for all people with Type 1. Insulin must be taken after every meal and blood glucose levels must be checked several times a day. Special attention must be paid to the foods that a person with Type 1 diabetes consumes so that their insulin dosage is appropriately calibrated. As early as infancy, such intensive daily procedures become the responsibilities of every person managing Type 1. Better care means a better quality of life with Type 1. Diabetes research is the key to improving methods of care and ultimately finding a cure.

DRC provides funding to early-career scientists pursuing novel research studies related to type 1 diabetes in an effort to prevent and cure the disease as well as improve quality of life for those living with T1D. To learn more and support current research projects, visit http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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