Diabetes Week : Research, Research, Research… – by Jenny Foster
Research, research, research … when it comes to diabetes, it’s all we ever hear!
As a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes, it’s hard not to be immediately cynical when you hear talk of research.
I don’t mind admitting that when I see a little You Tube video of a new-fangled piece of equipment not yet on the market, or I read an article of a scientist somewhere finding a link between something and something else, I catch myself thinking ‘oh here they go, trying to justify all the money we’ve raised!’ There is a good reason for my cynicism; the fact that none of these developments are an actual cure and really that is all I want. It’s what we all crave and desire and we won’t be happy until we get it! Right?
Well, lets take a minute to be fair. I’m a parent of a child who was diagnosed with Type 1, insulin dependant diabetes in 2010 … lets imagine if he had been diagnosed 100 years ago in 1910 …
In 1910, as his parents we would have been given the grave prognosis that Ewan wouldn’t survive any longer than a year. That year would have been spent in hospital trying to manage the complications he would have due to his high blood sugar levels and eventually he would have died from ketoacidosis and all because his pancreas had stopped producing the life-essential hormone that is insulin.
So put plainly, if it wasn’t for research, Ewan wouldn’t be with us today.
It was only in 1921 when the story of research really began with the realisation that insulin could be artificially accepted and then used by the body. A young surgeon whose name we have all become familiar with, Frederick Banting, and his assistant Charles Best, kept a severely diabetic dog alive for 70 days by injecting it with a murky concoction of canine pancreas extract. Then, with the help of Dr. Collip and Dr. Macleod, Banting and Best administered a more refined extract of insulin to Leonard Thompson, a young boy who was dying of diabetes. Within 24 hours, Leonard’s dangerously high blood sugars had dropped to near normal levels and it was then that the hopes and dreams of parents like me all over the world were finally realised and people stopped dying of diabetes and started surviving. That is what research is all about!
Since then research has taken a varied route from the determined biologist fixating on a cure to the realistic and practical scientists sensibly finding ways to improve the day to day lives of those living with diabetes. If Ewan had been diagnosed anytime in the past 75 years, his life would have been so very, very different …
If Ewan had been diagnosed in 1935, we would not have known that he was specifically type 1 diabetic as apposed to type 2. It was not until that year when Roger Hinsworth discovered there were 2 types of diabetes that endless new avenues of treatment and research opened up.
In 1936, although there would have been insulin available to Ewan it would only have been fast acting, so balancing food, exercise and insulin intake would have been impossible. It was only in 1936 that PZI, a longer acting insulin, was created.
If Ewan had been diagnosed during the 40’s and 50’s he would have had to endure injecting his insulin using large reusable needles that not only hurt, but also had to be sterilised for 20 minutes after every use. So, when Becton-Dickinson introduced the single use syringe in 1961 it would have been a revelation and a life-enhancing time for Ewan.
Up until the 60’s Ewan would have had to use test tubes and chemicals to test his blood glucose, taking up to half an hour each time to get the results! So thank goodness that urine strips and the first portable blood glucose meters were also developed during that decade.
If Ewan had been diagnosed in the late 1970’s he may have been ‘lucky’ enough to have one of the first ever insulin pumps… only problem was, they were so big he would have had to carry it around in a backpack!
If during the 1980’s, 90’s or 00’s we received the news that Ewan had been diagnosed with diabetes, in comparison the news wouldn’t have seemed too bad! We would have known it was type 1 as apposed to type 2 and we would have had a choice of various portable monitoring systems and the comfort of him using small pen-like injection methods. Even in the most recent past, needle sizes have continued to get smaller and pre-filled insulin cartridges have been created. Blood glucose monitors have just kept getting more compact and full of extra technologies and insulin pumps have become more mobile, technologically advanced and readily available.
So… because of research and the fact Ewan was lucky enough to be diagnosed in 2010 and not 1910…
We have had the luxury of choice. Ewan has tried three different insulin regimes, used 4 different types of blood glucose monitors and tried 3 different types of insulin up until we found the regime that suited him best. All the while he has continued to live his life like his friends, enjoying sport, food, socialising and school.
Sometimes we should all take a minute and appreciate the world we live in now. Ewan might not see a cure in his lifetime but I am sure his lifetime with diabetes will become easier and easier as the years go by, as all the research continues to bring improvements that are leading the way towards that much anticipated cure.