The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation website describes living with Type 1 Diabetes this way:
“It’s difficult. It’s upsetting. It’s life-threatening. It never goes away. But, at the same time, people with Type 1 Diabetes serve as an inspiration by facing the disease’s challenges with courage and perseverance and don’t let it stand in the way of achieving their goals.”
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month in Canada.
According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, over 9 million Canadians are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes, approximately 10% of whom suffer from Type 1. Of the three subdivisions of this disease (Type 1, Type 2, and gestational), Type 1 diabetes begins in childhood, which is why it’s also known as juvenile diabetes.
Diabetes arises either when the pancreas is unable to produce a glucose-controlling hormone called insulin, or when the body does not use the insulin it produces properly. If untreated, patients are at risk of developing further complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, eye disease, and nerve damage.
It was a Canadian, Dr. Frederick Banting, shown here on a millennial postage stamp, who discovered insulin and, working with Dr. Charles Best, came up with a treatment for the disease that has no doubt saved millions of lives since its development in the early 1920s.
However, there is no cure for diabetes.
Known for their unparalleled capacity to produce hundreds of different types of cells, stem cells likely will play a vital role in research towards finding a cure for diabetes.
Beta cells store and release insulin. Researchers are testing whether stem cells can grow into beta-cell producing factories or as cells that support beta cell repair. Either way, the goal is to return the body’s insulin to normal levels. This means that, in the future, people with diabetes could be free of dependence on daily insulin injections.
In fact, researchers believe a stem cell therapy for diabetes may be much closer than for other diseases because diabetes is very well understood and can be traced back to the loss of a single cell type. Many groups around the world are working on new stem cell approaches to this disease to transition basic research into clinical trials and applications. For more information see Toward Treatments.