Politics, Money and
Can the next president help cure diabetes by
lobbying for more research dollars?
This month’s cover story
focuses on getting more money from the government to help find a cure for
diabetes. I support this. But many I have talked to wonder what happened
to the $442 million we spent last year for diabetes and all the money NIH
has spent during the past 35 years. I don’t know if we have anything to
show for it, as most advances that affect you and me have come from
Will tripling funding for diabetes research to
$1.6 billion by 2004 get us closer to a cure? I feel like we need to focus
not only on the amount we spend, but also on what we spend it on. A
disease as devastating as diabetes certainly deserves as much research
money as cancer or AIDS/HIV but, at the same time, I get a little
frustrated by all the pork-barrel spending that goes on. It seems like,
out of force of habit, millions of dollars are pumped into projects that
clearly don’t work.
We did a survey two
years ago and an overwhelming majority of our readers believe that the
current diabetes research funding system needs to be reformed. One reader
suggested that we go even further and reform the entire education system:
In the long run, the number of people qualified to do research is an even
more stringent limit than funding and a lot more difficult to change.
Changes need to start at the very basis of education and society. Yet
public support for real changes in education is virtually
Another reader wrote, “The NIH ought to be able to produce a
yearly accounting of its expenditures along with a summary of the advances
made.” Another adds, “I think a $300 million reward for a cure would
generate a lot more progress than a $300 million
80 Years and
Insulin was not
discovered in a big government lab with a huge government grant. Instead,
it was created by two Canadians, Frederick Banting and Charles Best, who
were experimenting on their own with a very small budget. They eventually
kept a severely diabetic dog alive for 70 days by injecting it with a
murky concoction of canine pancreas extract, and the rest is history. For
almost 80 years, their discovery has remained the biggest breakthrough in
diabetes care. Penicillin, which has also saved millions of lives, was
also accidentally discovered by Fleming in a neglected petri
Are Billions of Dollars
Really Necessary for the Cure?
I just got a phone call from a friend of
mine, who coincidentally has the same name as me. He is the founder of a
three-person research company called Islet Sheet Medical
(www.Isletmedical.com). Scott, also a type 1, is working on a cure for
“Scott, we’ve done it,” he told me with jubilation. “Our
dogs have been euglycemic for a whole month without insulin or
immunosuppression of any kind.”
Scott and his colleagues have
invented a very thin “sheet” made out of refined seaweed. Like a sandwich,
islets are placed between two layers of his sheet and then transplanted
into diabetic dogs. Scott is especially excited by the fact that, as
opposed to individually encapsulated islets, these sheets can be retrieved
from the body. The sheets allow the islet cells greater access to
nutrients, and can easily be removed if something goes wrong. Best of all,
this process requires no medication to suppress the immune system.
So far, experiments have been performed on two dogs, and after 30
days with the new cells, they are still off insulin.
false hope? Why write about this at such a beginning stage?
told me, “We are not at a beginning stage. We are now doing pre-clinical
trials. This is not a mouse, rat or a dog that we have filled with drugs.
This is not just one of the ‘promising approaches’ we read about so often.
This is the approach that I believe will work in people.”
told me that he does not need millions and millions of dollars to test his
technology because it truly works. He is convinced that he has found the
cure for diabetes.
“Our competitors have spent $200 million and
not achieved what we have,” says Scott. “I have only spent $300,000. While
others have spent millions on things that can in no way produce a cure
(like basic research).”
Things in Smaller Packages
find it encouraging that Scott has managed to bring such an important
project this far on his “little-engine-that-could” budget. Islet Sheet
Medical may very well have made the breakthrough discovery we need to cure
This is not to suggest that we trim back the diabetes
research budget and return to making medical advances in isolated backyard
laboratories, but we must demand more accountability from the large
institutions who have been awarded these billions of
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