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New Treatments for Diabetes to Be Unveiled

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

June 21, 2001 -- What's on every diabetic's wish list of medical advances? Short of an out-and-out cure, the most hoped-for development would likely be some way to avoid the constant, painful pricking that comes along with checking your blood sugar levels and taking insulin shots.

Although they're still in development, various attempts to answer that wish will be unveiled at the upcoming meeting of the American Diabetes Association, or ADA, held this year in Philadelphia. Among the new items: disposable contact lenses that can monitor your levels of blood sugar; insulin that comes in a pill or an inhaler and not a needle; a wristwatch-style device that reports on your blood sugar electronically; and even an implantable monitor and insulin pump combination said to function together like an artificial pancreas.

Also up for discussion are the highly anticipated follow-up results to the so-called Edmonton protocol. This innovative program used immunosuppressive drugs to make diabetes patients much less likely to reject islet cell transplants intended to make their pancreas once again produce insulin. This was last year's big story from the ADA meeting, and the advance news is that it may once again be the blockbuster of the conference.

The Stats Are Staggering

Why the excitement, and urgency, about advances in treating -- and maybe curing -- diabetes?

Simply put, rates of this limb- and life-stealing disease have never been higher in the U.S. -- currently 16 million Americans have diabetes, a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin.

The hormone insulin is needed to transport sugar and fat from food into cells for storage. When there isn't enough insulin to do the job, the sugar, or glucose, remains high in the blood in people with diabetes, and wreaks havoc on the body and its organs.

Some numbers: People with diabetes have as much as a fourfold increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The disease is the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure in the U.S., and it's responsible for 90,000 amputations per year.

In just the past decade, there's been a 40% increase in diabetes in the U.S.-- and a 70% increase among people in their 30s. Most of the increase is in type 2 diabetes, the form of the disease most closely tied to obesity. In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn't properly use insulin. In type 1 disease, the body fails to produce insulin.

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