Diabetes: They’re Working On It

At least people pay attention to diabetes now. Thousands of scientists are researching it. Many of them came to San Francisco from June 13–17 to share their findings, and I was lucky to be there. I’ll write about it for the next several weeks.


The 74th Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association drew almost 15,000 researchers and clinicians from around the world. I’ve never heard so many different languages being spoken in the same place.

The science was amazing. They are rethinking and investigating everything about diabetes, from the social causes and treatments all the way down to what’s happening at the molecular level.

Here are a few things I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks:

• What we usually call insulin resistance is often actually bad circulation.

• What we usually call depression in people with diabetes is often just distress over dealing with diabetes itself.

• Very-low-calorie diets reverse Type 2 diabetes completely in recently diagnosed people, but not always in people who’ve had the condition for a long time.

• Much of the body’s glucose management actually takes place in the brain. Chemicals like serotonin have a lot to do with glucose levels.

Self-management training led by peers with diabetes can be as effective, or more effective, than training led by doctors.

• The hormone leptin completely reverses diabetes in mice.

• Some studies show that tight glucose control gives only minor benefits. But long-term (like 20 years) follow-up often shows advantages growing over time to become highly significant. This is called the “legacy effect.”

• Our classification of diabetes — Type 1, Type 2, and LADA — may be highly misleading and should be changed. At least some doctors think so.

• New drugs and better equipment are coming out soon.

There were over 300 oral presentations at the conference and about 2,000 posters, which are like presentations on bulletin boards. Imagine three acres of poster boards, each with detailed discussion and data. That’s a lot of information!

Many posters and presentations were about drugs, and many were about genes. But there were also quite a few on foot care, eye care, education, nutrition, and other topics. I wished there had been three of me, so I could have learned more stuff.

The exhibit area covered six acres. Pharmaceutical companies had most of the space, but there were also representatives for apps for diabetes management, publications, schools, insulin pumps and monitors, and more. I probably didn’t spend enough time there, but I did learn some things about insulin injection techniques that I’ll share later.

ADA treats the media well. They fed us good breakfasts and lunches and had a couple of dinnertime receptions we could go to, all free. They were helpful in connecting reporters with resources we wanted. I liked that each food item had its recipe posted, so you could see what was in it.

We got a conference book with abstracts of all 2,500 presentations and other helpful materials. I’m definitely keeping my conference tote bag. It’s a good one.

They also made space for the World Cup of soccer/football. There was a World Cup lounge with a couple of large screen TVs, chairs, and coffee tables, and an even larger screen in one of the lobbies. It was fun to see the docs from different countries rooting for their teams and screaming when they scored a goal.

So that’s an overview. It was a great long weekend for me. There seems to be no shortage of money for diabetes research right now. They’re working on it, although the focus is still 95% on drugs. Next week I’ll write about how good diabetes control can pay off decades later, the “legacy effect.”

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  • Joe

    I accidentally missed your May column where you discussed leptin. I was intrigued by the connection between stress and various types of hormone resistance, including leptin and insulin. I’m curious if any work is being done studying stress relief as a treatment for diabetes, and if anti-anxiety medications have any benefit for ID/LD.

  • David Spero RN

    Joe, there were presentations about leptin and serotonin, which I will be writing about. I didn’t see a presentation or poster about anti-anxiety medications, but quite a bit on depression. Mindfulness meditation is a stress-reducer that has been studied in diabetes.

  • Ferne

    New drugs and equipment are so expensive they are almost out of our reach. My doctor suggested a new drug but it was $100 a month and my drug insurance would never pay for it. Thank goodness my A1c was low enough that I didn’t need a change.
    With all that is going on in our country now with the Obamacare we are going to be able to afford less and less.

  • Fred

    Please stop these ‘Obamacare’ posts. Lets keep on topic people. This forum is for comments about the story, there’s plenty of other places to discuss the Affordable Care Act. I for one am happy to see the info Mr. Spero is bringing back for us and look forward to the articles to come on these topics from the conference.

  • Carolyn

    When will you disclose the insulin injection techniques?