JDRF officer to report on state of type 1 research

Aaron Kowalski

Aaron Kowalski, PhD

After 45 years, more than $2 billion in research and some bright investigative spots, type 1 diabetes research remains a work in progress.

JDRF Chief Mission Officer and Vice President of Research Aaron Kowalski, PhD, will present “From Research to Clinical Practice: Upcoming Advances in Diabetes Care” from 3:45 pm to 4:45 pm today in Room 220-222.

Dr. Kowalski will discuss unmet needs and the prior year’s advances in type 1 diabetes research, as well as progress in the JDRF Artificial Pancreas Project, to bring attention to the need to accelerate the delivery of therapies that minimize complications and keep people with diabetes living healthy.

“There are accomplishments in research that now translate into viable, real therapies that will impact clinical care, but there is room for improvement,” Dr. Kowalski said. “I sometimes hear the physician community say it’s a matter of compliance. Yes, we could all pay closer attention, but we need better tools.”

The good news is that people with type 1 diabetes are living longer, healthier lives, and life expectancy has improved. Of those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes between 1950 and 1959, almost 70 percent lived 25 years post-diagnosis. Today, that number is nearly 95 percent.

Unfortunately, the incidence and prevalence of childhood onset type 1 diabetes is on the rise and occurring at an earlier age, particularly in the U.S., Dr. Kowalski said. Since 2002, the rate of type 1 diagnosis has increased 2.6 percent annually. Between 2001 and 2009, the prevalence of type 1 diabetes rose 21 percent among those under 20. The number of young people with type 1 diabetes is projected to increase a little more than threefold by 2050 among Caucasian youth and slightly more than sixfold among Hispanic youth.

“With numbers like that, we need to arm clinicians with the right tools. The focus used to be on the Holy Grail — a walk-away cure — but that’s going to take more research and time,” Dr. Kowalski said.

Among the topics he will cover is hypoglycemia — “the most feared complication of intensive insulin therapy and the most common reason for not adjusting insulin doses,” Dr. Kowalski said. Recurrent, severe hypoglycemia is associated with reduced energy levels and embarrassment, guilt, helplessness, anger, anxiety, and depression. Approximately 30 percent of deaths among children and adolescents and 20 percent of deaths among adults with type 1 diabetes are caused by hypoglycemia.

People with type 1 diabetes live with psychosocial burdens as well. It’s not uncommon for parents of toddlers and preschoolers to fear hypoglycemia, selective eating, hyperactivity, learning disorders, and school issues. Children and adolescents are touched by peer issues, fitting in, eating disorders (in adolescent girls), parental stress, family conflict, fear of hypoglycemia, risk-taking, smoking, and drug and alcohol abuse. Navigating the transition to adulthood can come with bouts of depression.

Dr. Kowalski remains optimistic, noting that pharmaceutical companies are expanding their research efforts and investing in breakthrough technologies. “The changing type 1 diabetes landscape is promising,” he said.

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