Researchers In Columbus Assess Diabetes Impact

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While much of the world medical community took measure of the fight against world AIDS during the week-end, an estimated 600 researchers, public health officials and non-profit advocates were in Columbus for a global summit on diabetes. A disease which health officials predict will cause the same number of deaths this year as H-I-V Aids. WOSU’s Tom Borgerding prepared this report.

“I’ve had diabetes for nearly 50 years.” Says Christina Staccia. She is one of an estimated 685,000 Ohioans who have diabetes. But, unlike many adults, she was diagnosed as a young child and since that time has managed her condition with a combination glucose monitoring, insulin, and other presriptions. And so far, has staved off many of the complications of diabetes.

“It can cause blindness and kidney failure, and heart failure and major organ shutdown damage. And so as a result that can become incredibly perplexed to manage and to cope with on a day-to-day basis.” Says Staccia.

Staccia made her comments during a Global Summit on diabetes in Columbus. The summit was hosted by Ohio State University. O-S-U Doctor Dara Schuster says current research is revealing more details about how glucose and insulin are regulated in the body,sometimes with the help of prescription drugs. But, she says managing diabetes is complicated for those who suffer and for the physicians who treat them.

“I think the problem with managing diabetes is its not one single thing we have to fix. Because there are several hormones that are typically disregulated. I think that some researchers and investigators had thought maybe we could find a genetic reason for diabetes and we’re still looking for that but we haven’t found a single gene that causes diabetes. And so because of that we’re targeting our therapy to those problems we know like insulin resistance or beta cell failure or inappropriate regulation of the liver to make glucose.” Says Doctor Schuster. Schuster adds that during the past five years, Ohio State University Medical Center has beefed up its research on diabetes.

“We are really on a mission to be one of the best areas for research on diabetes in the country.” Says Doctor Schuster.

But, she says research is expensive and so in addition to grants from the National Institutes of Health and from foundations , the university also collaborates with major drug manufacturers to help fund on-going studies. Many of the presenters at the diabetes summit disclosed financial ties with major pharmaceutical companies. Doctor Schuster discloses she is an advisory board member at Pfizer. At the summit, held at the Hilton Easton, vendors from Merck, Novo-Nordisk, Lilly and other companies involved in treatment and monitoring of diabetes lined the halls outside the meeting rooms. One researcher estimates that, during 2007, the U-S health care system will spend more than $20,000,000,000 dollars or 14% of all health care costs on diabetes. Christina Staccia works with the National Diabetes Resource Center. She helped calculate individual costs for monitoring her diabetes.

“Depending on whether or not the individual is on insulin injections medications can run as much as between $35 and $40 dollars a bottle of insulin, syringes. You’re talking a good $100 to $150 dollars a month. And if you add the cost of glucose monitoring strips, those are running between $75 to $80 dollars per month. So, you’re talking $2,000 to $3,000 dollars per year.” Says Staccia. Staccia says 80 percent of her costs are covered by private insurance. But, she says other insurance companies pay only 30 percent of diabetes expenses. Ohio is one of only a few states which has no requirement for health insurance policies to cover diabetes. But, Staccia says the Diabetes Resource Council is also working to get out word that adult-onset diabetes is mostly preventable.

“Its due to lifestyle, how we’re living, access to fast foods, weight gain, environmental factors. And then what’s really interesting is that 90 percent of the diabetic population today either has the ability to manage the disease and not have any complications or even reverse the disease by having some lifestyle changes.” Staccia says if the fight against diabetes fails and current projections come true, the chronic illness threatens to overwhelm the U-S Health care system during the next 20 years.