Date: July 1st, 2010
Diabetes in the U.S. is continuing to rise at an alarming rate, fueled in large part by the obesity epidemic and our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and poor diets. Every year, more than 1.6 million Americans develop diabetes—joining the ranks of the more than 28 million Americans who already have the disease.
iving with diabetes means constantly facing an increased risk of many serious complications, which are often hard to reverse once they develop. Diabetics often have to deal with heart disease, stroke, vision loss and blindness, kidney disease, nervous system disease (neuropathy), skin infections, and even amputation—more than 60% of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations occur in diabetics. It’s a dangerous disease that can quickly rob individuals of their health and quality of life, and often lead to death. In 2006 it was the 7th leading cause of death.
Many of these complications can be prevented or delayed. The key to warding them off is successful blood glucose management. A number of management treatments and innovations that are coming down the pipeline offer the promise of fewer complications and deaths, and lower health care costs.
Monitoring Blood Glucose
Diabetes is a group of diseases—the most common being type 1 and type 2—that are characterized by high blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels. Normally as our body breaks down food for energy, glucose is produced and enters the bloodstream. The pancreas produces insulin which moves the glucose from the blood into muscle, fat, and other cells. Without insulin, the glucose remains in the bloodstream and can’t be used to produce energy. It also builds up and can lead to many complications.
Both type 1 and 2 involve problems with insulin. In type 1, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin. So type 1 diabetics need to take insulin to stay alive. In type 2, the pancreas produces insulin but the body doesn’t respond well to it. Some type 2 diabetics can control their disease by watching their weight and diet. The National Health Interview Survey found that 16% of diabetics don’t need medication or insulin therapy. But the rest do.
Effective diabetes management means regular monitoring and the use of diet, exercise, medications, insulin, and other treatments to keep glucose levels as close to normal as possible. Because patients need to self-monitor on a regular basis, education can make a huge difference in effective control. After 13 hours of group education on nutrition and self-management, one study found that the number of individuals experiencing heart disease events was lowered by 12% over 10 years.
Exciting new treatment breakthroughs that make management easier and more effective should also make a difference in blood glucose management. The following innovations were highlighted at the American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions, and although not yet approved by the FDA, studies are revealing great promise:
Artificial Pancreas —This new system ties together existing technologies so that type 1 diabetics are freed from constantly monitoring their blood sugar levels. Instead, a computer handles it by combining an insulin pump worn outside the body, with an implanted continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Special software allows the two to talk and automatically regulate the person’s blood sugar. Not only does this make management easier, but it also helps avoid the sugar level highs and lows that can lead to complications.
Inhaled Insulin—Taking the place of injections, this lets type 2 diabetics breath in their insulin. Not only is it a more desirable delivery method, but it’s also faster-acting and has less of a risk of low blood sugar levels. While previous attempts at inhaled insulin have failed, this drug is showing fewer potential risks.
Sensor Augmented Pump—This insulin pump combines with continuous monitoring so that patients and their physicians can get real-time information on blood glucose levels through Internet-based software.
The Silver Book Highlights Innovation
Breakthroughs like these are making life with diabetes easier, but it’s still critical that we ensure support for research and incentives for future innovation. The Silver Book®: Chronic Disease and Medical Innovation from the Alliance for Aging Research emphasizes the value of innovation in diabetes. This volume of a trusted resource brings together compelling statistics and eye-opening facts that spotlight the mounting burden of diabetes and the promise of innovation in reducing that burden.
While much of this information is typically buried in dense reports and technical studies, The Silver Book extracts key findings—bringing the well-referenced information to the fingertips of those shaping policy and promoting investments in diabetes research. One study highlighted by The Silver Book: Diabetes found that every dollar spent on the treatment of type 2 diabetes produced health gains valued at $1.49. Another made evident the success of recent advances, with statistics showing a decline in diabetes death rates of around 4% between 2006 and 2007.
Progress in research that leads to better prevention, treatment, and management for diabetes will produce health gains that far outweigh initial financial investments. The closer look provided by The Silver Book: Diabetes confirms this.