By Susan Learner Barr, M.S., R.D.
There’s no end to what you can learn when visiting our nation’s capital. On February 18, more than 600 people, all sharing a connection to type 1 diabetes (T1D), attended the 2012 JDRF Type 1 Diabetes Research Summit hosted by the JDRF Capitol Chapter. A letter in the summit program from United States Senator Jeanne Shaheen, whose granddaughter has TID, welcomed speakers and attendees, and the chapter’s new executive director, Piper Dankworth Sutton, set expectations soaring high for the day’s agenda.
Riva Greenberg, a columnist with The Huffington Post who is a diabetes advocate, author, and coach, was the summit’s focused, insightful moderator, navigating the day’s presentations like a GPS. Among the advocacy speakers was JDRF’s own Cynthia Rice, vice president of government relations, who gave a detailed update on advances in T1D advocacy initiatives, the Artificial Pancreas Project, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with a special appeal to the audience to start thinking about advocacy efforts to renew the Special Diabetes Program this year. Adam Brown, a T1D advocate and managing editor at online magazine diaTribe, spoke about targeting a cure for T1D, and familiarized the audience with the research terminology that was used throughout the day.
The audience was also treated to a veritable brain trust of top T1D scientists, who spoke about stem cells and cell therapies, current efforts to prevent and halt the progression of T1D, and high-tech diabetes—specifically, progress toward a bionic pancreas. Two of the speakers, Mark Atkinson, Ph.D., and Desmond Schatz, M.D., are past recipients of the prestigious JDRF Excellence in Clinical Research Award. Dr. Atkinson, who is the director of the Diabetes Center of Excellence at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and director of the nPOD Project, presented his own “top ten” list: “What We Still Need to Learn about T1D—And how we might get there.” High on his list was the necessity to recognize that although animal models in T1D research are valuable, mice are not men. “We have about 450 ways to prevent/cure T1D in mice and none in humans,” explained Dr. Atkinson. “It’s not that difficult to cure diabetes in a mouse.” Other summit presenters included experts from both academia and industry.
The summit attendees had the unique opportunity—throughout the day and at lunch—to ask the researchers questions, and there was a networking engine running at full speed among advocates and adults and children with T1D, including donors, supporters, and JDRF volunteers and staff. “We were thrilled to have such outstanding researchers, scientists, clinicians, and advocates talking about the progress being made toward a cure, better treatments, and prevention for T1D,” says Ms. Dankworth Sutton. “With 200 more people in attendance compared to last year, the message is clear—there is a desire and need for this type of community outreach. What a day!”
What a day, indeed. Maybe just another day in our nation’s capital—but an exceptionally dynamic and informative one for hundreds of people in our T1D community.