The cure. We all dream about it. We plan what we’ll do if it ever arrives. We think about a day when Type 1 diabetes is a nothing but a memory. But most of the time, we don’t let ourselves hope too much, because we don’t want to be let down. Many of us were told when we were diagnosed that a cure was “just a few years away,” but we’re still waiting. And even with all the doubt that 18 years with diabetes has taught me, I had an experience on Saturday that stoked the fires of hope for me, more powerfully than ever.
I spent eight hours in a room on Saturday with the most brilliant minds in diabetes research. The event was called a TEDex, which is defined as “a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together”. You may have seen a traditional TED talk on youtube – it’s essentially a program of speakers who are subject matter experts on a very specific topic. Saturday’s local TEDex was devoted to the search for the cure for Type 1 diabetes. And let me tell you this: if we’re ever going to find the cure, I would bet money that the minds in that room are the ones that are going to do it.
Each expert spent 18 minutes on stage running through their area of research or medicine. We traveled down a convoluted path of beta cells, xenotransplantation, videos of autoimmune attacks, and all the reasons why this disease is so damn hard to prevent or cure. Now I understand why we’re still waiting for a cure – this disease is one giant complicated mess, with barriers to breaking through at every turn. Replacing beta cells is just one part of the journey that has an entire set of unique problems (one talk that made us all laugh was titled “Is There a Pig in your Future?”, and the speaker discussed why porcine beta cells might be the answer to our pancreatic prayers!). But even once you replace the beta cells, you can’t stop the autoimmune response without heavy immunosuppressive drugs, which then create a whole litany of issues. That leads to discussions of encapsulating the cells in a device that won’t be rejected, which is a feat of engineering ridiculousness. The cure and/or prevention of Type 1 diabetes is literally one problem after another. It’s enough to make you want to bang your head against the wall.
But, thank goodness I’m not the one in charge of research. There were 17 dedicated, amazing doctors in that room who are fascinated by the cluster-eff that is diabetes. There were folks in that room determined to unlock the secrets of this disease, and to map out a road to the cure. They are trailblazing heroes – the kind of people that say “Impossible? Well gee that sounds fun!” And I am so impressed by them, because I know that I don’t have the capacity to do what they do. I am truly eternally grateful that they are able to though. There was such an unbelievable amount of brain power in that room, I’m surprised I didn’t walk out of there glowing in some sort of smarty-pants phosphorescence.
But more than impressed, I left there hopeful. We just might see the end of this thing one day. I believe that more than ever now.
For more information on the speakers and all of their badass research, check out the TEDex DelMar website. In a few weeks, they will post all of the recorded talks on there too so you can see them in living color!