By Adriana Miele
“Lori is not different from a lot of you. She has a lot of things she likes to do that have nothing to do with diabetes. She likes holding giant babies and... buying silly drinks with little umbrellas in them,” said Dustin Blanton of Branford, Florida of his wife, Lori. Blanton was teaching biology at a local high school when his wife was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in November 2005 at the age of 19. From then on he decided to dedicate his life to finding a cure for his wife’s disease.
Though only 10 percent of the 16 million Americans with diabetes suffer from type 1, “it is a greater challenge for patients than type 2,” said Dr. Patrick Rowe, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Florida. While type 1 is a autoimmune disease determined by a genetic predisposition as well as a variety of external factors, such as diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices, type 2 diabetes is is a metabolic disorder and is far easier to control with certain lifestyle adjustments. Type 1 is a constant struggle, which Dr. Rowe deals with firsthand. From nausea, frequent bathroom usage and the constant monitoring of one’s sugar intakes, type 1 can wear down many sufferers. Graduate student Dustin Blanton said that he came home one afternoon to find his wife lying on the floor crying because she was so sick of always checking her blood pressure, which must be done at least four to six times daily.
Nonetheless, many of those suffering from type 1 have learned to cope and persevere, such as Bryan Conrad, a 34 year old father of two who says that he no longer views his diabetes as a bad thing. “I think that advocating for the cause is kind of neat. And now I feel like I’m part of this special club; I feel very connected to other patients.”
Because of the constant hassle faced by sufferers of type 1 diabetes, Dr. Brusko said the University of Florida’s Diabetes Center of Excellence is “looking for a cure and not supportive therapy.” And despite the many treatments and knowledge of diabetes, Dr. Todd Brusko of the Univeristy of Florida’s Diabetes Center of Excellence said, “If we know what causes diabetes, why can’t we simply find a cure?”
Unfortunately, he adds, the answer isn’t that simple. Conducting diabetes research, for type 1 in particular, is a difficult task. Dr. Rowe said, “It’s kind of like looking at a crime scene and trying to figure out what happened before and what happened later.”
Type 1 diabetes is essentially characterized by one’s own immune system attacking its own beta cells, which produce insulin. Insulin is produced in the pancreas to lower blood sugar levels, but those suffering from type 1 diabetes must inject insulin into their own bloodstreams depending on how much carbohydrates they eat or drink.
The greatest obstacle for pancreatic research is the obscured location of the pancreas, which Dr. Rowe explained is the reason most research must be conducted on pancreases from deceased organ donors. Donations are difficult to come across.