Wisdom of Crowds

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Here at Diabetes Flashpoints, we have occasionally covered controversies in diabetes-related research — from a unique approach to seeking a cure for Type 1 diabetes, to a trial
testing a controversial drug combination
for treatment of
. But unless a particular type of research falls on a familiar political fault line, involving questions of improper profit-seeking or scientific ethics, the general public usually stays out of discussions on the direction of diabetes research.

A recent endeavor at Harvard University aimed to change this state of affairs, challenging everyone — members of the Harvard community, academics and scientists around the world, and the general public — to think about approaches to research toward finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Simply called the Challenge, this joint project of Harvard and InnoCentive, a Massachusetts-based company focusing on innovative solutions to problems, sought to test the power of a concept called “crowdsourcing.” Crowdsourcing involves seeking ideas from a large group of individuals with diverse backgrounds, rather than just from experts on whatever topic is at hand. The program was funded by the American Recovery and Investment Act, often known as the economic stimulus act.

The contest — to answer the question, “What do we not know to cure type 1 diabetes?” — was first announced in February, and 12 winners were announced at a ceremony on September 28 at Harvard Medical School, according to an article in the Harvard Gazette, the university’s official publication. Winners included a Harvard undergraduate, a man with Type 1 diabetes, and many people who work in medical and scientific fields not directly related to diabetes. Winning ideas involved real-time direct monitoring of glucose in the blood, noninvasive blood glucose monitoring, using pancreatic cells as blood-glucose sensors, the interaction of the immune system with lipids (fats), approaches for studying the immune system, targeting drugs directly toward the pancreas, possible viral causes of Type 1 diabetes, and studying what happens when Type 2 diabetes goes into remission following bariatric surgery. Video clips of the awards ceremony, which include remarks from each of the winners, can be viewed on the page of a press release from Harvard Medical School.

What do you think — do these approaches sound useful to you? Should crowdsourcing be used more often to solicit ideas for diabetes research? Do you have any ideas of your own about what should be studied to help cure Type 1, or Type 2, diabetes? Leave a comment below!

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