In the Palace of Diabetes

So, last weekend they held the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) annual Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, my hometown. Lucky for me, because I wouldn’t have gone otherwise.

It’s lucky for ADA, too, because San Francisco is a cool and expensive place. I’ve been to diabetes conferences before, but they were always for diabetes educators[1] or for the general diabetes community. They were in places like Omaha and Indianapolis and Salt Lake City. Not San Francisco or New York. Not tourist destinations. But ADA is mostly for doctors and researchers, and they go first class. Good for them, I guess.

The conference was held in the Moscone Center, which takes up a whole block on each side of Howard Street. It’s three floors on one side and two floors on the other, mostly underground. My first thought as I walked in was, “People are making a lot of money from this disease.” The exhibit area must have covered 1½ acres, offering stuff from free lipid panels and HbA1c[2] tests to diabetes board games.


Of course, the drug companies had 90% of the exhibit space. There were some new entrants in the drug competition—pharma from Japan and India, and other drug companies I hadn’t heard of. So, probably the pace of new drug development will get faster.

Companies that weren’t selling drugs were often sponsored by the drug companies. There was some interesting stuff for sale. I’ll report more on the exhibits in coming weeks.

A Global Event
People had come from all over the world for this meeting. I heard Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, and a few languages that I didn’t recognize. Most people were walking around in classy suits and dresses. At diabetes educator conventions, most women wear jeans. And it’s about 98% women there. This was mostly men.

Media people (that’s me!) were offered breakfast and lunch each day, and the meals were great. Food at the conferences has really changed. Diabetes conferences used to be full of chocolate chip cookies and even big, fudgy brownies. If you got a lunch, it would be a sandwich on a huge French roll with a cookie on the side. This was a lot healthier. One lunch that DSM Web editor Tara Dairman[3] and I had was teriyaki chicken over brown rice with mixed vegetables and vegetarian pot stickers. Quite yum.

Information Overload
I discovered that many doctors aren’t very good speakers. I guess they think they’re judged on the quality of their data, not on their presentation. Several of them zipped through their slides so fast that nobody could have followed them. Others had slides with so many arrows going in different directions, and so many boxes without labels, that I would have needed an hour to figure them out. Still others had slides that repeated exactly what they were saying out loud, word for word. It got a bit tiresome.

But other presentations were excellent, and all of them had good information. There were usually eight or nine different things going on at any one time, so you could only see a small fraction of them. Fortunately, they give you a big book with the abstracts of every talk, so you can catch up.

Next year, the sessions will be in New Orleans. I won’t be going. But I will be spending the next five weeks writing about what I saw in SF. If you have any specific questions, let me know, and I’ll try to answer them.

  1. diabetes educators:
  2. HbA1c:
  3. Tara Dairman:

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David Spero: David Spero has been a nurse for 40 years and has lived with multiple sclerosis for 30 years. He is the author of four books: The Art of Getting Well: Maximizing Health When You Have a Chronic Illness (Hunter House 2002), Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis — Who Gets It, Who Profits, and How to Stop It (New Society 2006, Diabetes Heroes (Jim Healthy 2014), and The Inn by the Healing Path: Stories on the road to wellness (Smashwords 2015.) He writes for Diabetes Self-Management and Pain-Free Living (formerly Arthritis Self-Management) magazines. His website is His blog is

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