Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) today held a hearing to examine the potential that new technologies have for improving the care and quality of life for people living with diabetes. The hearing highlighted the economic and emotional toll that diabetes takes on our society, and explored the possibility of developing an artificial pancreas to help alleviate this cost and suffering.
The artificial pancreas would link two existing technologies, the insulin pump and the continuous glucose monitor. Used together, these two technologies have the potential to dramatically improve blood glucose control, which would improve the quality of diabetes care and help to prevent such serious and costly complications as blindness, heart attacks, kidney failure, and amputations.
“While the discovery of insulin was a landmark breakthrough in the treatment of diabetes, it is not a cure. People with diabetes face the constant threat of developing life-threatening complications, as well as a drastic reduction in their quality of life,” said Senator Collins. “The fact is, current diabetes technology is inadequate. The development of an artificial pancreas could revolutionize diabetes care. Until a cure is found, and we must work to move this innovative new technology forward.”
As the founder and co-chair of the Senate Diabetes Caucus, Chairman Collins has worked throughout her time in the Senate to raise awareness and promote research for this devastating disease. Today’s hearing featured testimony from officials at the National Institutes of Health and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, as well as former professional basketball star Chris Dudley, and diabetes research advocate Caroline Sweeney of Gray, Maine, whose four-year-old son suffers from Type 1 diabetes.
“As parents, we try from the moment our children are born to protect them from any harm. Two years ago, I never felt more helpless when all I could do was hold the tiny hand of my 22 month old son in the intensive care unit and pray he would not die. I vowed at that moment to do everything I could to find a cure for Diabetes. I stand before you today, with my son, my hero, asking for your support in saving his life,” said Caroline Sweeney during her testimony before the Committee.
Nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, and one in three American children born today will develop the disease. In individuals with Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas and destroys the islet cells that produce insulin. The average child with Type 1 diabetes will have to take 50,000 insulin shots in a lifetime. Moreover, these children and adults must closely monitor their blood sugar levels and undergo frequent testing. It is a lifelong condition that affects people of every age, race, and nationality, and is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness in adults, and amputations not related to injury. It is estimated that diabetes accounts for more than $132 billion of our nation’s annual health care costs and one out of every three Medicare dollars.