When we focus only on our longing for a diabetes cure, we get understandably impatient and discouraged. We need to balance that hope with a look back at how far we have already come.
We have already come a long way. Just a dozen years ago when a doctor told me I had type 2 diabetes, the only drugs we had were insulin and sulfonylureas, both of which usually made us gain weight.
The needles and lancets we used were bigger or more painful that the ones we have now, and the blood glucose meters took a lot more of our time and blood. We were just beginning to realize that controlling our A1C levels were key to our diabetes control, since the first study that proved it, the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, had just been completed.
And this is just a blip in the long story of controlling diabetes. When a country doctor named Frederick Banting discovered insulin in 1921-22, a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes was no longer a death sentence.
That was undoubtedly the most important event in the story of diabetes control. But that story began centuries earlier.
As near as we can tell, the written story of diabetes began in fact more than 3,500 years ago. There is a reference to excessive urination, one of the principal symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes, and prescriptions for it recorded on the writing paper of the ancient Egyptians. We can find this today in what we know as the Ebers papyrus.
Not everyone agrees that this reference is to diabetes. But it’s clear that about 1800 years ago Aretaeus the Cappadocian wrote the first full description of diabetes that survives to this day. He was one of the most celebrated of the ancient Greek physicians.
It’s only because of a wonderful website that Bruce MacDougall built that I know anything about either the Ebers papyrus or Artaenus. Bruce is a retired professor who has had type 1 diabetes for the past 20 years.
When I started my diabetes website in 1995, I began with links and descriptions of what I called “On-line Diabetes Resources.” But there was only one other diabetes website at that time. Bruce’s came a couple of years later, and I now link and describe it in one of 16 web pages, “General Web Sites”, that together cover the 800 or so most important diabetes websites.
The link to Bruce’s site appropriately follows my link to Joshua Levy’s site, which looks ahead to a cure. Joshua has put together a list of all human trials of possible cures for type 1 diabetes that he knows of.
Is this relevant to the vast majority of people with diabetes who have type 2? I think that it certainly is, because type 2s have what I call a “two-hit” disease – first insulin resistance and then beta-cell dysfunction.
Any cure for type 1 will by definition cure beta-cell dysfunction. While that will leave type 2s with insulin resistance, that’s not diabetes.
Joshua links 15 on-going trials that really could lead to a cure. There are more, including one that he lists in a section of failed cures linking my blog entry on INGAP. INGAP research is actually on-going.
This is a lot to look forward to. The long story of diabetes may well be coming to an end.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.