Taking a trip on HG Wells’ diabetes time machine – by Chris Askew

Today (21 September) marks the birthday of the father of modern science fiction HG Wells. Wells (pictured above) was diagnosed with diabetes in his early 60s, and in 1934, along with his physician, RD Lawrence, he founded the Diabetic Association, now known as Diabetes UK.

Our first research grant was awarded the very next year: £50, the equivalent of around £3,000 in today’s money. Fast-forward to 2017, and we’re backing 130 research projects across the UK, worth a total of £25 million.

Since then, we’ve never shied away from the fight against diabetes; whether by influencing policy, driving improvements in care or funding pioneering research, together we’ve done whatever it takes to fight diabetes.

We campaigned for free access to insulin, and the creation of the National Health Service. This year we started to campaign to make Flash Glucose Monitoring, a life-changing technology for many people with diabetes, available on the NHS. And last week, together, we made it happen.

We’ve come a very long way since HG Wells and RD Lawrence founded our charity more than 80 years ago, and care and treatment for people with diabetes have been completely transformed. But there remains a huge amount of work to do for us to achieve our vision of a world where diabetes can do no harm.

Diabetes is the most devastating and fastest growing health crisis of our time. About 4.5 million people in the UK are living with the condition, and 11.9 million are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

There is currently no cure.

As the leading UK charity for people affected by diabetes, it’s our responsibility to lead the fight against the growing crisis.

And this fight is one that involves all of us – sharing knowledge and taking diabetes on together. As HG Wells wrote in a letter to the Times newspaper, announcing our formation, we are a charity “open ultimately to all diabetics, rich or poor, for mutual aid or assistance, and to promote the study, the diffusion of knowledge, and the proper treatment of diabetes in this country”.

On this special day, we thought we’d share a timeline of key milestones in the fight against diabetes. It shows just a small snapshot of just how far we’ve come, but I think we should all be immensely proud of what Wells set in motion.

Diabetes key milestones

500BC – ants are thought to be attracted to the urine of people with diabetes.

1st Century AD – the Greek physician Aretaeus, describes the condition as “the melting down of flesh and limbs into urine.” Children often die within days of onset and older people deal with devastating complications.

10th Century – since the urine of people with diabetes is thought to be sweet tasting, diagnosis is often made by water tasters who drink the urine of those suspected of having diabetes.

1800 – diet becomes an approach to the treatment of diabetes. A range of fad diets are introduced including the milk, rice and potato diets and even locking food away from patients.

19th Century – blood and urine tests are used to diagnose diabetes.

1921 – Dr Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best discover insulin. Marjorie, a dog without a pancreas is successfully treated with insulin and kept alive for 70 days.

1925 − home testing for sugar in the urine. Patients mix eight drops of urine with 6 cc (1 tsp=5 cc) of a solution called Benedict’s solution. The tube is then put into boiling water for five minutes. If sugar is present, the liquid is greenish (light), yellow (moderate) or red/orange (heavy).

1934 – HG Wells, along with his physician RD Lawrence, founded the Diabetic Association, now known as Diabetes UK.

1935 − the first grant for £50 (the equivalent of about £3,300 today) is awarded by the Diabetic Association (now Diabetes UK) to Dr Hans Kosterlitz to study the production of glucose in the liver.

1944 – a uniform insulin syringe is developed and diabetes management becomes more standardized.

1978 − portable glucose monitors are developed. The first home monitor weighs nearly four pounds and stood seven inches high. It gives results in one minute.

1986 – Diabetes UK awards a clinical development grant to Prof Roy Taylor to test a retinal camera to screen for diabetic retinopathy in Newcastle. In 2009, retinopathy is no longer the leading cause of blindness in Newcastle’s working age population.

1986 – introduction of the insulin pen, which was supported by a Diabetes UK funded trial.

2013 – £2.4 million invested in research to investigate how Type 2 diabetes can be put into remission with a low-calorie diet to Prof Roy Taylor and Prof Mike Lean. The first results will be published in 2017.

2016 – Flash Glucose Monitoring, a small sensor that people with diabetes wear just under their skin, is made available in the UK. It stores their blood glucose levels continuously and they can be accessed by scanning the sensor whenever they want to.

For a more detailed guide to diabetes research milestones, go to the timeline on the Diabetes UK website.

Find out more about Diabetes UK’s history.

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