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What I Learned at the 14th Annual Diabetes Awareness Day & Expo

researchLast Saturday, my husband and I joined hundreds of other interested people at the 14th Annual Diabetes Awareness Day & Expo co-hosted by the Canadian Diabetes Association and the University of Calgary. Speakers included: researchers, a cardiovascular specialist, a dietician and a motivational speaker working in obesity medicine. Here are some of the surprising, at least to me, things I learned.

  • 1 out of 11 people globally have diabetes (types 1 &2)
  • Every six seconds someone dies from diabetes or diabetes complications
  • 1 in 2 people don’t know they have diabetes or pre diabetes. Take the Canadian Diabetes Association test here to assess your risk.
  • Type one diabetes can strike a person at any age, right up to 80 years of age
  • Type 2, which used to be considered an older person’s disease can now be seen in children as young as six due to obesity.

But the news wasn’t all doom and gloom. Some of the research progress is astounding. Dr. Peter Santamaria, Professor and Chair of the Julia McFarlane Diabetes Research Centre described the success of treating 1 diabetes using a new class of drugs called nanomedicines.

As you may know, type 1diabetes is an autoimmune disease, one of over 100 autoimmune diseases that are impacting more than 20 percent of the world’s population. Dr. Santamria explained that these nanomedicines find the bad white blood cells that are attacking the pancreas and turn those cells into a super white blood cells into diabetes fighting cells. Sounds a bit like magic to me.

The excitement over this research extends beyond type 1 diabetes because Dr. Santamaria described the drugs like a screwdriver that requires different heads depending upon which chronic disease it is targeting. Progress towards helping people with type 1 could be modified to help people with other autoimmune conditions such as: asthma, MS,  arthritis etc.

Dr. James Shapiro spoke about the Edmonton Protocol where islet cells are transplanted into the liver. There is a 94% survival rate for patients undergoing these transplants 18 years post transplant.   The issue to date with islet transplant is that it’s only used when all other methods to treat type 1 diabetes have failed because the anti-rejection drugs required after transplant are so hard on the body. But there’s encouraging work in that area as well. The idea of an islet transplant would be more attractive if it didn’t require anti-rejection drugs for life. Don’t you agree? We also saw photos of procedures transplanting islet cells in other areas of the body: under the skin, the GI tract and the omentum.

All these steps forward in treatment and knowledge fill me with hope that my son’s type 1 diabetes treatment will improve over time.

If you are sometimes discouraged by the pace of research, remember insulin was discovered less than 100 years ago. Some of the tools we use today would have seemed like science fiction just a  few decades ago.

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