Archive for category Diabetes


Posted by on Friday, 9 August, 2013

Happy pancreas


Sometimes my job sucks.

Occasionally, I hear from readers who say they’re sick.  “Science,” they say, “pah! Who CARES about ‘fascinating’ papers by science geeks ? I need a cure. Not a rat model.”

And- you know what? –  MISTER ScienceAintSoBad gets it.  He does. He knows “interesting” has to take a back seat to “it’s killin’ me.” How often do I find you a nice little pill to cure cancer? I don’t even have anything much for diarrhea.  I read through all kinds of crap about “breakthroughs”. Hah! Some breakthroughs! The mice feel better.  For humans? We’ll get back to you on that.

What a job!

Could be things are getting better. My last article, Alzheimer’s, Things Are Starting To Look Good, had little glitter balls of hope stuck all over it. And now  something about type 1 diabetes that could please you and add to my own optimism about less sick people to drag down Obamacare.  Seriously! It could happen faster than anyone thinks.

The Type 1 vs Type 2 thing

The thing about type 1 is that you can’t make insulin. The cells in the pancreas that  do this job get destroyed by the immune system  Without insulin your blood sugar climbs. If you don’t get yourself stabilized with supplementary insulin,  you won’t last. Even if you are a very good patient, you may have to work very hard at keeping your sugar level in a good range. If you are  lucky you may avoid some of the crappy complications but it won’t be easy. Type 2 usually comes on later in life and is because your body loses its ability to efficiently use the insulin that it produces. It’s not a lack of insulin; just can’t seem to use the stuff right. You wind up needing extra. You don’t want either type of diabetes but individuals with  type 1  often have a tougher challenge.  

What I saw was published in the journal Diabetes. (Dr. Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD and Dr. A.W. and Mary Clausen).  It’s about a drug called teplizumab which, in a very sophisticated way, keeps T-cells (the business end of the immune system) from going after the insulin producing cells on the pancreas. The strength of the results even surprised the scientists conducting the study; they were  “very excited by the efficacy”.


Well, here’s the thing. This IS exciting. (That’s what they said in the press release, right?) Great news. BUT these are only phase II trials on 52 kids under 15 years old. Half the kids did great. That’s why so much excitement. But what about the other kids? They didn’t do as well. The study says this might be because it works best where the insulin producing cells are still in fairly good shape. In other words,  where the disease hasn’t been active that long. But, come ON! These were teenagers with newly diagnosed disease. Obviously this part needs to be cleared up. Still. Such great results do justify moving right along to phase III. Great potential here.

By the way, this isn’t the only hope. There’s other research attacking the disease from other directions. That’s good. We don’t want to kick people under the bus just because they’ve been sick for a long time.

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Image credits: That’s mine.

A Cure For Type 1 Diabetes?

Posted by on Tuesday, 11 May, 2010


Diabetes: cure.


Let’s see what’s new.

Ah.  Here’s a study from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation about a cure for diabetes.

Now I KNOW I’m dreaming!

A new drug, otelixizumab, is in phase III trials. (Phase III trials are the randomized, controlled, multicenter trials where you figure out if the drug really works).

Forty eight  months into the study, the insulin making cells of the eighty “type 1” patients in the study are still OK.

How’re you doin’? Hair standing up on the back of yer neck? Hands shakin’? If not you don’t get it. This is an atomic bomb! This is a breakthrough of a breakthrough! This is.. well… ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10.

MISTERScienceAintSoBad SHOULD know better than to give away 10’s like this. Something this important’s gotta be tested on more than 80 patients. Maybe the head’ll fall off of the 81st one (considered a setback). But DAMN this is neat!

Maybe there IS something to all this science stuff!

An Artificial Pancreas For Diabetes: Still In The Works

Posted by on Tuesday, 9 February, 2010

THAT'S one. (A pancreas.)

image from Creative Commons

Medicine: Type 1 Diabetes.

An artificial pancreas really is just over SOME horizon now. An announcement from Cambridge (article in the Lancet) describes the fine work of Dr Roman Hovorka at the University of Cambridge, working with a group of seventeen diabetic kids.

A cure for diabetes would be nice, of course. And there are some intriguing hints but, for now, an artificial pancreas would be stunning enough.

If it works out (and if it is widely accepted), this development has the potential to greatly reduce the complications of the disease, ease peoples’ lives, and reduce health care costs significantly (Wouldn’t THAT be nice?).

Back to which horizon this is over.

It’s hard for MISTER ScienceAintSoBad to say this but, once again, this is only a tantalizing possibility of something that is badly needed. We ARE a lot closer, thanks to the great work being done. Maybe as little are three, four or five years.

Karen Addington (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) says this is a “proof of principle” and that we “need to redouble our efforts.”

I’m not sure that’s what we want to hear. But reality IS so darn real, isn’t it?

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 9

– – – – – – – – – Postscript – – – – – – – – –

Karen Addington was nice enough (and ubiquitous enough) to leave a comment which I am duplicating below since it addresses the question of when this device might really hit the road. Notice that her motivation is personal.

Her comment:

Thanks for picking up on this new research.

We know that developments like the artificial pancrease can’t come quickly enough for people living with type 1 diabetes, and their families. That’s why we’re working really hard to make sure that the artificial pancreas becomes a reality as soon as possible. In January my colleagues at JDRF International (based in the USA) announced a partnership with Animas (a Johnson & Johnson company that manufactures pumps) to develop a first generation artificial pancreas.

The goal is to develop a system that can prevent the extremes of both hypoglycaemia and hyperglycaemia automatically – but will still need some input from the wearer, such as informing the system of meal times and periods of exercise.

This partnership is planned for four years and by the end we hope to reach the point where it will ready to go forward for approval by regulatory bodies like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA), and from there to people with type 1.

I have had type 1 diabetes for 30 years, and I’m really excited about what this research could soon mean for me, and everyone else with type 1.

Maybe Salt’s OK For You

Posted by on Friday, 22 January, 2010


Cardiology: Seasoning.


Here’s the thing. About 25% of you are “salt sensitive”. Which means, if you eat too much salt, you could be at risk for high blood pressure (like you always heard), as well as heart failure, kidney disease, diabetes, cataracts, strokes.. on and on.

As if you didn’t have enough to worry about.

How can you tell if you’re salt sensitive?

Not that easy. A clue: low birth weight kids are prone to it.

If you’re in that group (salt sensitive, that is), you really SHOULD steer clear. Keep it off the table and out of reach. Learn other ways to enjoy food.

Or try exercise.

I’m sure you remember from your running days that you can get sick if you don’t have ENOUGH salt. Good hard exercise (done often enough) chews up the salt and may very well ALLOW you to indulge a bit.

Not such a terrible compromise, is it?


I knew you would ask.

See, keeping extra salt out of your diet is such a standard part of government guidelines, that it is now the orthodoxy. EVERYBODY knows it’s true.

“But,” you may ask, “if one in four of us is salt sensitive, don’t we bias the results of the studies that all this stuff is based on?”

You would think.

What about those of us who aren’t sensitive – the majority?

Dr. Richard Fogoros, from the University of Pittsburgh, talks about the “Salt Wars” and concludes, conservatively, that you should “sell your salt shaker”.

Just in case.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad, doesn’t want to lead you astray, but, given that most of us AREN’T salt sensitive, maybe a little common sense, based on your own medical history, your known inherited risk factors, and the advice of your Doc might give you license to “shake it”.

Just a little.

Anyway, all this stuff is a reminder that science is great ‘n all. But it doesn’t always lead us to clear answers.

The salt and pepper shaker image is from:

Diabetes: Lenses To Measure Blood Sugar?

Posted by on Monday, 4 January, 2010


Medicine: Color changing lenses for diabetes.

Back to diabetes.

The primary way that diabetics check their blood sugar level (other than passing out, of course) is by analyzing a little blood. They say you get good at it.

So this new thingee from Jin Zhang at the University of Ontario should be very welcome, right? Contact lenses that change color, depending on your sugar level.

Elegant, easy, and convenient.

Have you ever TRIED to poke a lens into your eye? It isn’t the most natural thing in the world. My optometrist claims it’s cause I’m the wrong sex. Women, supposedly, have a contact lens gene. Or, anyway, are more used to screwing around with their eyes.

But for those who find lenses convenient or who already DO wear them, this may be a very appealing idea.

It’s not like I’m running out of 10’s or anything.

ScienceAintsoBadRating = 10

Pancreatic Cancer And Libraries and Whatnot

Posted by on Thursday, 8 October, 2009

photo courtesy of Creative Commons

LibaryScience:The Future Of Libaries

Books are being digitized.

Google’s taking the lead.

Having already digitized several million books, Google hopes to become a digital “Library of Alexandria”, a modest claim since the collection of the ancient Greeks was nothing compared to what has already been digitized by the big G.

But, in its day, the Library of Alexandria, with its 700,000 volumes of manuscripts, was the best library anywhere.

This seems to be Google’s hope too.

700,000 volumes is just spit in the ocean, these days. According to the Trivia Library, 277 of our books were written by a single person – Alexandre Duma pere (remember The Three Musketeers?) and that was before we had word processors. Two more writers, Mary Faulkner and Lauran Payne, have written a combined total of over 1650 books. If there’s a lost art, it isn’t the art of writing books.

Amazon presently sells more than 14 million different titles.

Google wants ’em all.

The specific agreement with the Authors Guild covering Google’s right to capture and distribute a wide variety of books including those that are out-of-print isn’t screwed down yet. There’s more suing and defending to be done.

But with, maybe, some modifications, Google is likely to prevail.

I assume that old-fashioned books will continue to be bought and sold for many years. Some say that digitization will even be good for the trade.

But what about libraries? How will such easy online access to books affect the repositories of printed material? What form will libraries take in the future? Will they disappear? Will they adapt? And what adaptations would make sense?

This year, there’s lots of talk about electronic books. But until recently, the idea was mostly dismissed as silly. Nothing could replace the experience of the printed page and no electronic device was gonna change that.

I don’t know what got into the book traditionalists. Was it Google? Was it Amazon’s Kindle or Sony’s Reader? Or does it just take time for a new reality to sink in? But the inevitability of e-books isn’t far fetched anymore.

Whether books will endure or not, Googleizing them WILL turn your browser into a library and may EVENTUALLY undermine the old public libraries. And, meanwhile, the stubborn defenders of books have mutated into the stubborn defenders of the buildings that hold them.

Suddenly, libaries are wonderful places. Romantic. We’ve always loved them. With dusty printed matter out of the way, they would be good places to come to for community gatherings and ideal places to digitally look at books. Maybe they could be art centers.

I dunno. It doesn’t work for me.

I’m thinking an old library would be a great place for a gas station.


If the fluid pressure in your eye gets too high, it can harm the optic nerve and hurt your vision or cause blindness. The primary way Glaucoma is treated involves the drainage of this fluid – usually with drops, sometimes with surgery. But this development describes a whole new system of drainage.

Totally unknown till now.

A system for circulation of lymph in the eye just like in other parts of the body.


Glaucoma’s complicated. And intraoccular pressure isn’t always behind the degeneration of nerves (neuropathy). But getting the pressure down IS the focus of most therapy so this development is, potentially, a big deal.

Nice study. Nice conclusion.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10


Hearing loss is one of my favorite topics. Wearing hearing aids’ll do that.

The authors of this study, Josef Shargorodsky, Gary Curhan; Sharon, Curhan and Ronald Eavey, found that the much touted anti-oxidants don’t do a dang thing for hearing loss. Folates, on the other hand, seem to be truly effective, reducing the risk of hearing loss by 20% which, from a public health standpoint, is big.

Folates? They’re all over the place. Spinach, lettuce, turnips, beans, peas.

Fresh salad with your meals may be all it takes.

And, while we’re on the subject (of hearing loss), a group from the Scripps Research Institute is onto something too. They’ve discovered a gene which is related specifically to “age related hearing loss”. Since that’s the type of hearing loss that’s most prevalent, could be a good thing. LOTS of work to be done yet.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 7


The five year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is less than 5%. Dismal. This is primarily because most cancers of the pancreas aren’t caught until they’re quite advanced.

In fact there may be some early warning signs such as suddenly getting diabetes or persistently itchy feet. But wouldn’t it be great if there were a really reliable detection system?

Work in this area is intense. This, this, this, and this give some indication of the newest stuff.

Maybe one of these hopeful ideas will lead to real progress in catching cancer of the pancreas early. If ScienceAintSoBad had fingers, they would be crossed.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 6/10 (6 because it’s too early to know, 10 because of the importance. Make that an 11.)

Flight Data Recorders. A Radical Solution

Posted by on Friday, 12 June, 2009


EngineeringDesign: AIR FRANCE FLIGHT 447


The Flight Data Recorders of Flight 447 are in the ocean. When the batteries for its “pingers” run down, that it.


I suggested, last time, that the data in those “Black Boxes” could have been broadcast or “streamed” to a receiving station (perhaps via satellite) for later use. My very knowledgeable nephew, Sean, questions the practicality of such a scheme. He doesn’t think “the bandwidth is there” But the Managing Director of the NSTSB seems to think something like that may be technically/scientifically possible.

If the “Black Box data” for the Air France flight could have been thus transmitted and stored, how would things be different now?

We would certainly know more. In fact, we might well have had enough information to begin reconstructing the accident without having to wait for recovery operations. Even more important, we might have captured the last known GPS coordinates of the airplane.

Had it come down in one piece, we would know where to go. Exactly where.

The Air France accident was probably unsurvivable. But, in some wrecks, knowing an exact location immediately could make a big difference.

I have not been able to get an “on the record” response from the Airline Pilots Association.

Not that I blame them. Science Ain’t So Bad isn’t NBC. But I continue to wonder if pilots are ready to allow in-flight data (and, maybe, voice communications) to escape the confines of the cockpit with all the implications for later scrutiny and second guessing.

What about airlines? How do they feel about a huge cache of discoverable records just waiting for the lawyers to find them on “discovery”?

Practical concerns vs safety. Technical achievement vs cost.

For now, the Black Boxes remain.

EarthquakeRescue: Sonic Beacon

See if you can recognize the very famous actor in this video which shows my team’s approach to the problems of earthquake survival.


This week, I discovered a free, weekly newsletter which is focussed on hearing loss and deafness. Edited by Larry Sivertson, it is carefully crafted, with a great mix of science and practical information. It’s called HOH-LD News. If you’re interested, send an email.


This may be a comfort for people with Type 1 diabetes (recently discussed here). Vitamin C. Doggone!

And I’m not neglecting Type 2.



I’ve been having discussions with Dr. Michael Bodo about some intriguing work he’s doing that has implications for brain health. Maybe early detection/prevention of stroke.


Update: Diabetes

Posted by on Thursday, 28 May, 2009
A quick update.
I just heard from Dr. Von Herrath (La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology) who’s research I describe in the last post. As you can imagine, there’s a LOT of interest in his timeline and knowing when the human studies start.
Dr. Von Herrath says that they’re “actively pursuing combination therapies in recent – onset diabetes with Genentech and Bayhill Therapuetics”. They’re not ready to announce human trials yet but he hopes it’ll be soon.
Indeed, so do we.