Unlike Type 2 or 3 Diabetes, Juvenile Diabetes, or Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune disease so while the symptoms are similar to some of the other two types of diabetes, research into causes and prevention is more closely aligned with other auto-immune diseases like multiple sclerosis. Many autoimmune diseases are thought to be triggered by viruses, and there are some thoughts that this is also true for Type 1 diabetes.
Although this was an informal dinner, Rapp provided some interesting updates to the work the JDRF is doing to find the causes and a cure.
Most of the discussion centered around advancements in care, as Type 1 diabetes care is quite onerous for people who live with it, most of whom have onset of the disease in childhood or early adulthood. Rapp himself has one son who has Type 1 diabetes and another who carries the marker, and many of those in attendance had children with the disease. Type 1 Diabetes requires daily blood tests, hawk-like attention to diet, and insulin injections: quite a burden for anyone let alone children and young adults.
Like all areas of healthcare, diabetes care also has the ability to benefit from big data and from personalized data both for research and to provide better control. An example of a medical device breakthrough that works with both types of data is the artificial pancreas, which will ultimately mimic the function of the pancreas to control blood sugar levels.
Another place information flow can benefit is for relatives, which you can imagine is crucial for helping parents help their children. Providing alerts automatically when blood sugar spikes or drops and enabling parents to see how their children are doing when away from them is another benefit of continuous glucose monitoring.
Other advancements that Rupp shared with the group were glucose responsive insulin that waits in the body until there is excess glucose before being deployed. It works by packaging the insulin within the body and releasing based on reading of a “glucose tag.” Another study in progress is encapsulating a device for insulin within cells so that it can be surgically implanted and not rejected by the body.
The audience was visibly excited by hearing about these developments, but their spirits were dampened slightly when Rapp reminded them that it takes $1B and 14 years for a drug to get to commercialization. One guest also asked whether the same drug companies that made significant revenue from insulin were incented to come up with other solutions. However, between the ability of big data to find connections between information and the current speed of genomic research, Rapp was hopeful. He believes that will be possible to prevent Type 1 diabetes before a cure is found.