Diabetes and “Another Promising Study”

I, really, really, really hate those words — “another major breakthrough,” “another promising study,” “another major step forward.” I hate them because as someone living with Type 1 diabetes for over 20 years now, it seems I read one of those headlines every other week, as we inch excruciatingly slowly toward a cure (or at least a mode of treatment for this disease that can give truly normal blood glucose).

As I often do, I was perusing recent research articles in deciding what I wanted to write about. I found a few, including a very interesting article about researchers in Australia who managed to modify cells in a lab mouse. These cells were modified to secret insulin in response to blood glucose, essentially turning them into beta cells, the ones that our Type 1 bodies killed off to land us with Type 1 diabetes. Because they were modifying cells already within the body, the immune system didn’t respond to them as foreign, and so the mouse is still non-diabetic a full year later.

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Anyway, that’s all great. But I’ve got to admit, my reaction was one of muted irritation; muted irritation because I know what that actually means. It means that they will move to human trials next — limited human trials that will need a number of years to play out. Then they’ll need FDA approval. Then, maybe 10 years from now, it will START to become available for real patients. And there are about 1.25 million of us with Type 1 in the U.S. alone. We’re not all going to be able to get whatever procedure they come up with on day one. And of course, while we live in a country with more wealth than any in history, universal medical coverage is still somehow regarded as either an “impossible dream” by those of us on the left or a socialist government overreach by those on the right. And so not everyone will be able to AFFORD the cure.

And this is what will happen if the human trials GO WELL! Diabetes has been cured a number of times in mice — heck, if we were all mice, this website wouldn’t need to exist! It’s staggering how many Type 1 diabetic mice have been cured in my lifetime! There’s no guarantee that this new approach will survive that crucial step from clinical experiments with lab mice to actual human implementation.

And so, we keep moving forward with our pumps and our CGMs and our multiple daily injections. We keep pricking our fingers for blood drops 4–5 times a day. We keep calculating and monitoring and treating our food like obsessive carbohydrate accountants (well, if I have 45 carbs, that’s X units, but I was exercising this morning, so I better lower that rate just a little bit… of course, it’s higher fat, so I’ll have a surge later…). And somewhere, in that far-off future that never seems to come, there’s a cure. We’ve been teased so many times, and we’ll be teased again. My bet for this latest news? — 3:1 against. That’s actually pretty darned good compared to my usual odds. I give most “promising breakthroughs” in the search for a Type 1 cure about 10:1 against. But the odds are still steep, and tomorrow morning, I’ll still check my blood glucose, give my shot, and keep living a pre-cure life. We all will. Sigh….

Want to learn more about life with Type 1 diabetes? Read Scott Coulter’s blog series or Amy Mercer’s blog series.