Cure for diabetes still a long way off, experts say

by Barbara Hewitt on June 8, 2015

The treatment of diabetes over the past 50 years has massively improved but there is still no cure in sight for the condition, according to experts attending an American Diabetes Association symposium.

At the meeting, experts looked back at how lives have changed over the past five decades and what remains to be addressed over the next five.

researcher

While there have been massive improvements in treatment, experts say there’s still no cure in sight for diabetes

‘There are things that have happened over the past 50 years that clearly make life a lot better for people. There’s been a lot of change, most of it for the better, but what people want is a cure and we don’t have that yet,’ said Dr. Fred Whitehouse, of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

Dr. Whitehouse has overseen many changes in how people with diabetes have been treated. When he first started treating people with the condition, the only form of treatment was the injection of animal insulin, obtained from cows or pigs, which could sometimes cause adverse reactions.

Nowadays, human insulin is used, produced by microorganisms and delivered through a variety of different systems including insulin pumps. There are now fewer adverse reactions and no fear of supplies running out, Dr. Whitehouse says, with methods of delivery that are more accurate than ever before.

Glucose levels can also be tracked more accurately. Previously, diabetes control could only be assessed by analysing the levels of sugar in urine. There are many more options available to patients now, including the non-invasive A1C test that measures average levels over three months.

As methods for treating and tracking the disorder have improved for patients, so too has the collective understanding of diabetes shared by researchers and clinicians. It takes a long time for research to make a clinical impact and recent years have seen the results of 50 years of hard work.

Dr. Daniel Porte, a professor at the University of California-San Diego, said that one of the most recent discoveries is that insulin sent to the central nervous system not only feeds back to the brain, it also affects glucose production. ‘It regulates the islet cells, so there is a complete integration of the endocrine system and the nervous system. It took 40 years to discover this,’ he explained, adding that originally, the endocrine and nervous systems were believed to function completely independently of each other, with glucose the sole regular of insulin.

The experts agree that with diabetes research, it is crucial to be patient. ‘For example, the drugs we use now to treat diabetes were first studied 30 to 40 years ago. And there are many more than the one or two that were being used back in the 1970s,’ said Porte.

Although the landscape of diabetes treatment and research has changed radically over the past 50 years, physicians are still only able to manage the disease rather than cure it. Dr. Robert Ratner, chief scientific and medical officer for the ADA, said the next 50 years must concentrate on the mechanisms by which both type 1 and type 2 diabetes occur, along with those critical steps at which we might intervene to prevent disease.

‘Treatments must provide optimal glucose and metabolic control, without the risk of hypoglycaemia, and complications of diabetes should become historical memories. If research and treatment can progress at the same rate over the next five decades as it has over the past five, who is to say what can be accomplished,’ he concluded.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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