Diabetes Week : We’ve come a long way by Richard Holliday


Having had diabetes for a little over 29 years I am struck by how much technology has developed in my diabetic lifetime. I recall, upon diagnosis, having a rather large glass syringe that needed to be sterilised every night and included a rather large spear like needle. Insulin would have to be manually mixed together in the syringe and the timings of injections and meal times/snacks was executed in military precision. Finger prickers looked more like an archaic medieval torturing instrument and I can clearly remember being petrified every time I needed a blood test.

I remember blood tests being a rare luxury and an electronic meter was something that was only dreamt about. Results were compared against a colour chart and I can clearly remember the results being grouped; 4-7, 9-11, 11-17 and 17+. Urine tests resembled undertaking a science experiment in school, whereby the urine had to be mixed with a corrosive tablet, left for a minute or so and then had a stick inserted – if it changed colour the test was positive. That was it, you were either positive or negative for glucose….

The research over the years has led to many advances from my time of diagnosis. I now have a device called an insulin pen whereby units can be drew up in half measures, administered easily and importantly the needles are a fraction of the size. Blood tests take a matter of seconds, the meter is small enough to carry in my pocket, the results are provided in decimal places and stored within the unit. Urine tests are a thing of the past and you can certainly no longer call my routine a military operation. I eat what I want, when I want and through the principles of DAFNE adjust my insulin accordingly.

So what do I see the future being? I believe insulin pumps will continue to develop, advance and become more widespread. An ability to release insulin into the body at a natural rate is truly remarkable. With some fancy programming the user only has to input the amount of carbohydrates they are consuming and the pump does the rest. The next step on from this I believe is the ability to continuously monitor blood glucose without the need to physically access blood. Should this breakthrough occur the logical next step is to have the pump interface with the continuous blood glucose monitor and react accordingly. This would obviously be an artificial pancreas, but I see no reason why this couldn’t be developed if we continue to evolve as we have been.

The holy grail of course is a cure, which would be truly amazing. There is a large part of me however that does wonder how psychologically I would react to being cured. Diabetes has become such a big part of my life that it is now intrinsically a part of who I am. If it was to be taken away I am not sure I would be the same person. I am of course prepared to test it!!

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Ah Richard, your blog and particularly your photograph brought back some memories! I remember the glass syringes and urine testing very well! I’m about to move to pump therapy, in around 3 weeks’ time, after 32 years of injections and must confess to being a bit excited! I too look forward to the day that CGM and pump therapy interface – they’re already using it in the US so I’m sure it won’t be long! Though like you, I’ve adapted and diabetes is very much a part of me, I would jump at the chance of a cure! Good luck and thanks again for taking me back to my youth!