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Turning Discovery Into Health


Diabetes researcher Dr. Camillo Ricordi prepares a cell mixture of insulin-producing islet cells for transplantation. Photo courtesy of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

In the 1950s, about 1 in 5 people died within 20 years after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes. Almost all of them developed diabetic retinopathy, which accounted for about 12% of new cases of blindness between the ages of 45 and 74. People with diabetes relied on inaccurate urine tests to track their blood sugar. They used crude animal-derived insulins to control it.

In 1983, NIH began the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, which enrolled 1,441 people with type 1 diabetes. This landmark study was stopped early because the results so clearly showed that careful control of blood sugar reduced eye, kidney, and nerve complications by 50% to 75%. In a follow-up study 10 years later, researchers learned that rates of heart disease and stroke had declined by half.

Today, people with type 1 diabetes are living longer and healthier lives. New technologies help them keep tight control of their blood sugar using continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps that deliver rapid-acting, bioengineered human insulin.

We also know a lot more about type 2 diabetes. We know that family history, obesity, and physical inactivity are risk factors for this condition, formerly known as adult-onset diabetes. NIH-funded research has shown that type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented. Basic lifestyle interventions—modest weight loss and regular exercise—slash type 2 diabetes risk by 58% over 3 years in people with pre-diabetes. Despite this good news, type 2 diabetes still accounts for 90% of diabetes cases nationwide and has been increasing at an alarming rate due to the rise in obesity in the United States.

Imagine the Future…

  • An artificial pancreas—perhaps an implantable device—automatically senses a person’s blood sugar and adjusts insulin dosage precisely.
  • Preventing obesity preempts type 2 diabetes and its complications.
  • Stem cell research leads to the ability to replace failing insulin-producing cells.
This page last reviewed on November 30, 2011

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