Diabetes Association Alert Day: Diabetes Then and Now

March 22 is American Diabetes Association Alert Day, a nationwide wake-up call for Americans to take the Type 2 diabetes risk test. Twenty-six million Americans have diabetes and another 79 million are at risk of developing the disease if they don’t make the appropriate lifestyle changes, according to the Defeat Diabetes Foundation.

It’s remarkable to see how far diabetes treatments have come. In 1897, a person diagnosed with diabetes could expect to only live another four years, according to Defeat Diabetes Foundation research. Today, having a diabetes diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. Due to biopharmaceutical medical innovations, individuals with diabetes can make lifestyle adjustments to live long and healthy lives – but that wasn’t always the case.


Diabetes – The Early Days

Dr. Hesy-Ra is credited with writing the earliest record of diabetes on a papyrus scroll in Third Dynasty Egypt in 1552 B.C., despite not having any medical terminology to identify it at the time. It’s theorized that Apollonius of Memphis coined the term “diabetes” around 250 B.C. While the ailment now had a name, no one had found a successful way to treat it.

For thousands of years, diabetes was incurable and caused serious health complications for older adults and proved particularly deadly for children. When diabetes was first identified as an ailment, some examples of treatments included exercising, drinking wine and overeating to make up for fluid weight loss – strategies which, as enjoyable as they might sound, did not tackle the real causes of the disease.


Innovation Saves – Literally

By the early 1920s, researchers discovered insulin and how it could be used to effectively treat diabetes. Insulin then started to be commercially produced and used as a widely accessible form of treatment.

While the first forms of insulin prevented early death caused by diabetic coma, they did little to assuage the chronic and disabling complications of the disease. This was likely connected to the fact that insulin was extracted from animals, making human blood sugar levels harder to control. However, by 1982, the game changer came: the creation of the first biosynthetic human insulin, Humulin. This was the first genetically engineered product and was identical in chemical structure to human insulin. This discovery was only made possible through the development of DNA technology, according to Defeat Diabetes Foundation.

Diabetes now can be treated by drugs that enhance the body’s ability to lower elevated blood sugar and inhibit certain enzymes in order to promote insulin secretion. FDA-approved drugs like Invokana, for example, successfully lower elevated blood sugar in patients with Type 2 diabetes.

What’s Next?

Despite the leaps and bounds in treatment, diabetes research hasn’t lost momentum and continues to progress as researchers are still finding potential new treatments. So far this year, the American Diabetes Association has identified new possible triggers for Type 1 diabetes through research and is investigating the specific effects of Type 2 diabetes on children’s kidneys.

Researchers are continuing to develop cures to ensure diabetes does not stop people from living their lives to the fullest. Therapies have not only lengthened a diagnosed individual’s life expectancy, but they also have improved patients’ quality of life and level of control over their own bodies – changes you can’t put a price value on.

During this Diabetes Alert Day, tell your elected officials in Washington to support biotechnology innovations for diabetes by signing the Discovering Cures Petition here: https://t.co/Hq8AC4StlZ

Don’t forget to take the simple 10-question Type 2 diabetes risk test, too!  

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