Friday, July 27, 2012

CHI Event Spotlight: CHI Tackles Diabetes in U.S. Capitol

On July 24, CHI partnered with the Congressional Diabetes Caucus to bring together a panel of experts to discuss the key issues surrounding the diabetes epidemic. With diabetes affecting 25.8 million people, and ethnic minorities sharing a disproportionate burden, it is important now more than ever that we fund research and education efforts to understand and combat this disease for which there is no cure. During the event, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) acknowledged the prevalence of diabetes in his home district and reiterated the importance of combating the disease. In Los Angeles alone, the consequences of the diabetes pandemic are especially evident, where diabetes has been the 6th leading cause of death since 1997. Diabetes costs Los Angeles County an estimated $6.4 billion a year, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Panelists at the briefing included physicians, researchers, innovators and patient advocates. Speakers highlighted differences between diabetes types 1 and 2 and their variations in diagnosis, prevention and known causes. Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease in which the body does not produce the hormone insulin. There is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, previously known as adult-onset diabetes, is a metabolic disease in which the body does not make enough insulin or use it effectively. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly.

Dr. Richard Bergman of Cedars Sinai noted that there are two categories of treatment: medical and behavioral. Type 2 diabetes is much less understood and, therefore, treatments are less developed. Researchers have discovered, however, that along with obesity, environmental factors including toxin exposure increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Bergman also stressed the importance of NIH funding for diabetes research. Specifically, he noted the lack of incentives for intelligent, young researchers to enter the field where funding lags.

Panelists from the City of Hope and Medtronic spoke about their joint effort to create an automated insulin pump that assesses a patient’s blood-sugar levels systematically and releases or stops insulin injections accordingly. Essentially, this device would function as an artificial pancreas. For patients, this could dramatically improve the lives of those with type 1 diabetes by reducing their reliance on finger pricks and self-administered insulin injections.

Dr. Francine R. Kaufman, chief medical officer of Medtronic Diabetes, and author of "Diabesity: The Obesity-Diabetes Epidemic That Threatens America And What We Must Do to Stop It," presented Medtronic’s project, The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young, or TEDDY. The project aims to identify the triggers that cause children to get type 1 diabetes and to establish a central repository of data and biological samples. Highlights of Medtronic’s TEDDY diabetes program include:

  • Discovery of new genes, potential targets for prevention and treatment
  • Reprogramming adult pancreas cells to insulin-producing beta cells in mice
  • Standardizing improved patient care for both type 1 and 2 diabetes
  • Developing new glucose monitoring tools
  • Developing and testing of novel drugs for treating diabetes complications 
  •  Islet transplantation advances
  • Promising therapies targeting immune cells to prevent and reverse type 1 diabetes
  • Testing of novel type 1 diabetes prevention strategies
Michelle Mundt, a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation volunteer who has family members with type 1 diabetes, illustrated her daily life and the effects of diabetes. About 700,000 Americans suffer from type 1 diabetes, the most common chronic metabolic disorder to affect children. Mundt shared dramatic lifestyle changes post-diagnosis including the daily vigilance required to manage the disease. She and her husband have taught their children to check their insulin levels, count carbohydrates and account for exercise and sleep. Preparation, she said, is key to daily activities. She said her family always has juice boxes and snacks on hand in case blood-sugar levels drop too low.

CHI extends a warm thank you to the panelists for their participation as well as congressional staffers, and individuals from organizations like FasterCures, the American Diabetes Association, JDRF, the National Council on Aging, the American Podiatric Medical Association, and the California Hospital Association for attending.

For more information on what CHI member companies and other organizations are doing in the diabetes arena, click here.

CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation

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