Should we go all out for a cure?

By | 8 October, 2012

I was at a meeting a few weeks ago when discussion wandered onto the artificial pancreas. How we’re making progress towards it, how it’d be great if they could get it controlling blood sugars automatically overnight, but how more complex manoeuvres like dealing with food and exercise will be more of a challenge. And of course it’ll never be as good as an old fashioned, homegrown, organic pancreas.

Then someone asked a question. Rather than getting distracted by imperfect solutions like the artificial pancreas, shouldn’t we be focusing all of our efforts on a cure. That’s surely what we really need and want?

In theory, I’d agree. If the pancreas pixie came tomorrow and waved her magic wand, I’d be delighted of course. Or if there was any truth in the emails I receive telling me that a week spent doing yoga in a shed in Spain would cure my diabetes, I’d give it a go. But brace yourselves readers, it’s time to face reality, I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

I have a problem with the “all out for a cure” approach. Firstly the psychology of it worries me. My pancreas has been faulty for nearly 30 years. What a miserable life that would have been if I’d spent it praying, hoping, yearning for a cure. Convinced that it was only ever that mythical 10 years away, as it was in 1984 and has been ever since. Instead I tend to see a cure in the same vein as I view a multi-million pound lottery win. Theoretically possible, but not something I factor in when planning my life. That means that financially I look for other ways of making money, and healthwise I accept my pancreas is dodgy and focus my efforts on living really well with diabetes today.

One of the problems with diabetes is that for most people, it’s not bad enough to cure. If I were dying, had been given a year to live, I’d probably do anything to be cured. I’d risk life and limb, try anything with the slightest chance of success – what have I got to lose?

But thankfully I’m not in that position. I have an irritating disease which has the potential to ruin lives, but in most cases, with good care and a following wind can be controlled. That makes me fussy. It makes me look at potential “cures” like pancreas and islet cell transplants with the accompanying lifetime of immunosuppressant drugs and think for me, right now, they’re not worth the risk. My life is good, why risk it? Would I feel differently if I had severe complications? Probably.

The dictionary definition of a cure talks about something that will “eliminate (a disease or condition) with medical treatment”. In very few cases do we actually cure anything. We can beat cancer into remission, but its only in fundraising ads that we talk about it being cured. We can eradicate diseases like polio in entire populations, but we’re not so hot at curing it once you’ve got it.

I don’t mean to depress you. I’m just trying to look at this practically. So to answer the original question, no, I don’t think we should be putting all our efforts into finding a cure. I believe our primary focus should be on improving the excellent treatments we already have, and more importantly, making sure everyone has access to them. Yes, let’s invest in looking for a cure – you never know what’s out there, we may discover that amputating my left little toe would jump start my pancreas and life would return to normal. But let’s make that the secondary aim, with the primary one being to enable people to live well with diabetes today. Without that, the last 30 years for me would have been bloody miserable ones. What do you think?

Category: Living with diabetes The future Tags:

About Alison

Diagnosed with Type One in 1983 at the age of four, Alison’s been at this for a while now. She uses Humalog in a combined insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring system and any blood glucose meter as long as it takes five seconds or less.

13 thoughts on “Should we go all out for a cure?

  1. Tim

    I agree; being a pragmatic sort of chap I think that research that leads to incremental improvements in quality of life are the way forward. For example, test strips that are much more accurate would be great; as would be faster acting insulin. These little things make a huge difference to day to day life.

    In any event I don’t see we will get a “cure” within our lifetimes. :-/

      1. Tim

        Of course! By my pancreas pixie is a mischievous little blighter who magics unwanted and unexpected hypos on me at inopportune moments.

  2. Annette A

    Do pixies have magic wands? I thought it was only twee little faeries and nasty witches…
    But I agree, a better way of life through better treatment is more likely on the cards than a ‘cure’ and I’d go for that any day.

  3. Mike

    If you were cured tomorrow, and could unhook everything, fling your fingerpricker in the bin and cut ties with all your regular HCP chums how do you think you’d feel?

    *Not* having to count/guess at mealtimes… *Not* reaching for your meter first thing every day and last thing at night… Do you think, in some weird, slightly unexpected way… after a few heady days of carb-laden excess, you might actually miss all the rigmarole?

    1. Alison Post author

      I think it’d take weeks to stop thinking about missed boluses – it took me a while to stop waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night thinking I’d forgotten to take my Lantus when I moved from MDI to pump. I think it would take years to stop adding up carb counts of everything I see, I do it without thinking!

      I think despite all, I’d be able to cope with the loss though!

          1. Paul

            Am I the only one thinking if there was a cure tomorrow @tim would take it, @alison wouldn’t & there would be a SUPU YouTube video to demonstrate the advantages with tims blood sugar somehow at 22 🙂

          2. lady up north

            My handbag would feel HUGE without all the D related stuff. Anyone who tells you the meter is small, the (2) pens are small, the needles are tiny has obviously never tried to get them all in a handbag smaller than the average supermarket carrier bag.

  4. Megs

    I think I’d settle for ongoing access to improving technology and drugs to keep me going.

    Even if the wand waving pixie showed up and sprinkled me with magic dust I would still have all the complications I have amassed over the decades. What on earth would I spend my days muttering about if my pancreas suddenly shuddered into life?

  5. Ed

    How right you are about the elusive cure! In the late seventies to early eighties Tomorrows World used to carry the “cure story” roughly every 10 months. I’ve lost count of the number of times Judith Hann, resplendent in a white jump suit, would intone directly to camera that this latest steam powered device offered “real hope”. Kieran Prendiville did much the same thing when he wasn’t smearing jam on CD’s.

    Today was my 6 monthly hospital check up and I’m been told to carry on as I am. That is, injecting 8 times a day and having the same tedious conversation with my GP dispensary about why I need more than 50 (yes, fifty) test strips a month. So I agree with Megs, just getting universal access to what has been available for years would cheer me up – it appears to be beyond any pixie, with or without a wand!

  6. Alison Post author

    @furrypaul That made me genuinely LOL. I’m now distraught that we are so predictable and that I hadn’t even realised that only one of us could ever be cured because ShootUp cowriters rarely agree.

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