I’m glad we have the FDA. I’m glad we take our time testing things before rushing them to market. I’m glad medical advances are thoroughly vetted before being widely adopted and used in the general population. However, when it comes to research on “Type 1 diabetes cures,” it is enough to drive you mad! That is, if you’re one of the people living with Type 1 diabetes.
Today I read about a new implantable, artificial pancreas that is actually able to sense insulin levels and put out insulin or glucagon to automatically keep balanced blood sugar. It does this by housing actual islet cells, and houses them in such a way that the immune system does not attack them. That means that immunosuppressive therapy, which can cause all kinds of unwanted side effects and only works for a finite amount of time, is not needed. Basically, it is a viable option for an actual “cure” for Type 1 diabetes. Well, OK, not a cure exactly. But a very far cry from the world we live in today of constant monitoring and manual balancing of blood sugar, counting of carbs, and the whole deal. It represents a life where all one has to do is supply this implanted device with a small amount of oxygen (needed to keep said islet cells alive) once every 24 hours. So still a daily shot, but one is easier than four or five, right?
Here’s the thing, though. This is new. And I’ve read about similar new things that sounded very promising and then disappeared. I have always thought that there simply HAS to be a cure someday for this disease. There HAS to be an innovation like this someday that transforms diabetes. And I suppose I still do. But I have to admit, when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes over 20 years ago, I figured that time would have come by now.
Predicting the future
We all have an instinct to predict the future. We can’t help it, really. And it makes sense. We kind of have to predict the future to a point. What we do in the present has to take into account probable outcomes. Failing to consider the future at all would lead to all kinds of unfortunate decisions. We don’t have to fantasize about what we HOPE MIGHT happen in the future, of course, but we do that, too. We do that with our jobs, with our partners, with our families. We imagine the future we hope will come true someday. Part of the future that every single one of us Diabetians imagines is one where diabetes is no longer the involved daily maintenance routine that it is now.
But imagining a future without diabetes is different than imagining a future where you’ve made partner at work, become a world-famous touring musician, or had 2.5 kids and moved to a house in the suburbs. Diabetes is such an all-pervasive thing, such a constant thing, and such a serious thing. And that makes envisioning the future so agonizing! We’re not just imagining a future with a “nice bonus” we’d like, we’re imagining a future with a basic biological ability restored. That’s what makes teasers like the story I just related so tough. I know testing has to happen. I know it might not work in the end. I know that even if everything goes great, implementation is probably 5–10 years in the future. And I know this is the right way to go about things, but what I wouldn’t GIVE for a time machine on this one! Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you give almost anything to hurry up that process and just get that true treatment/cure HERE already?
But we don’t have a time machine, do we? We’ve only got the present. And the present still means living with diabetes. It still means checking our blood sugar before each meal, using all available resources to calculate our carbs before we eat, and being conscientious about our stress and activity. It means keeping that “diabetes computer” running all the time in the back of our heads plugged in and running as best we can. Someday, we’ll be able to unplug that sucker. That day isn’t here yet, but we’ll get there…eventually.