Diabetes Week : The Inquisitive Diabetic – By The … Diabetic

Like any person newly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, I’ve taken a keen interest in the latest research and technological developments, but recently, I’ve been wondering if I could turn my interest into application and play my part in advancing our knowledge of Type 1 Diabetes?!? The most obvious route would be to take part in a study, but maybe I could do more…

This week is Diabetes Week here in the UK, and when I received an email from Diabetes UK a few weeks ago, it triggered the following “train of thought” (Choo-Choo… All Aboard!). This year, Diabetes Week is focusing on research, and raising money to fund more research. As a person with diabetes, my interest in research is entirely selfish: cure me or make my life easier! And if neither of those is possible, then let’s do it for the next generation. But I also think that just throwing money at these topics isn’t the only part to the solution: large genetic population studies need DNA and health information from individuals, drug therapies need guinea pigs (especially the human-variety), and novel technologies need a few Borg to assimilate before the Collective can get involved (that last simile may have pushed the boundaries of normality there! But I’m a science geek so hopefully I’m forgiven). While I’m doing my best to get involved in Diabetes Week again this year with some fundraising, and I’ve already put myself forward to take part in research studies (so far only in one: unfortunately I live in a backwater of Scotland where there is little diabetes-related research it seems!), I wonder if I could do more?

DNA from gravitywave (via Flickr)

Scientific research always has some funky stuff in an Eppendorf container! Fun fact: did you know Eppendorf is also a suburb of Hamburg? (image courtesy of gravitywave via Flickr)In my own scientific research, I’ve been writing up a few specific, stand-alone research questions to offer out as graduate placements or student projects. I’m also considering applying maybe for some sabbatical leave so I can focus on some of the larger topics myself. All of these research questions are being passed by at the moment, not because they lack merit, but because I never manage to find the necessary time. Dividing the work among a few students and organising a sabbatical would give me the opportunity to focus on these pieces of work, do the data analyses and eventually write some scientific papers. I think the problem of too many interesting research questions isn’t specific to my field though (which is completely non-bio-medical by the way), and it’s made me wonder if researchers focusing on Type 1 Diabetes come up against a similar problem: a lack of time or staff resource to perform some of their analyses; the interesting research questions which would be nice to pursue but keep falling off the list!

It sounds a little “big headed”, but I think I have some suitable skills to help out: I’m numerate in statistics and maths, and well-versed in a number of data analysis software programmes. I’m knowledgeable on the “basics” of Type 1 diabetes (especially if first hand experience counts on a CV), and have taken some genetics and molecular biology courses in my first year at university (now many moons ago). I guess the main question is: is there room for patient-involvement in research at a level other than the status of “participant” or “sponsor”? Or would my emotional baggage cloud scientific judgement on the interpretation of results? There are quite a few health care professionals and researchers with Type 1 Diabetes active in the subject area, and I have to admit I admire how they manage to keep their independence when pursuing science. It is why scientists have established practices such as ethics panels, peer review scientific publishing and conference presentations, but I can imagine as a researcher it is hard to keep yourself from drawing the straight lines through random data points when that straight line would make your life so much simpler.

There are programmes for undergraduate and postgraduate student placements, but do similar ones exist for patient participation in research? I don’t want to take such a place away from a student who could be the next Nobel Prize winner at the start of their career, and I don’t want to go back to university to re-train in biomedical sciences. I already spent a long time there, and I do like my current area of research… most of the time, but a short “holiday” to a different research field might actually re-invigorate me in my own research! It may give me an insight into some new statistical methods or graphical representations to apply to my own work, but most importantly, it will give me the satisfaction of contributing to a better life for the next generation of people diagnosed with Type 1.

So, if you are a scientist in the field of Type 1 Diabetes reading this, and would like some free person-time to help do some statistical analysis or other… Please get in touch (I can send a more detailed CV than the short paragraph above ;-)).

Until next time,

The … Diabetic

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