World Diabetes Day: New research, new treatments for the future

November 13, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So

World Diabetes Day is today, Nov. 14. This year's theme is "Protect the future," and in the video above, Raynald Samoa, M.D., assistant professor at City of Hope's Department of Clinical Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism, discusses current City of Hope research that could benefit future generations. "We are working tirelessly to try to find new ways to treat diabetes as it reaches epidemic proportions," Samoa said. According to the World Health Organization, more than 347 million people worldwide have diabetes, and that number — along with diabetes-related complications and deaths — is expected to grow. Among the promising areas of research that could lead to prevention or better management of  the diabetes:
  • Epigenetics: By studying inheritable changes outside of the DNA sequence — specifically the signals that can activate or silence certain genes — scientists hope to find the triggers that lead to diabetes development and put a halt to the process.
  • Biomarkers: City of Hope researchers are currently trying  to find biomarkers that are indicative of diabetic complications such as nerve damage, kidney disease, elevated stroke risk and eye problems. By identifying these biomarkers, clinicians can get a head start on minimizing their associated complications' severity and possibly prevent them altogether.
  • Islet-cell transplantation: Type 1 diabetes is caused by a person's immune system attacking his or her own insulin-producing islet cells. City of Hope scientists are researching ways to improve islet cell transplantation — particularly in preventing the newly transplanted cells from being attacked — so that type 1 diabetics can be effectively, and permanently, cured with the procedure.
  • "Artificial pancreas": Fouad Kandeel, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Division of Molecular Diabetes Research, is currently developing a mobile device that connects a blood glucose monitor with an insulin pump, essentially creating an "artificial pancreas" that can monitor blood sugar levels around the clock and deliver the right amount of insulin or medication when needed. This helps patients maintain stable levels of blood sugar throughout the day — and night— while freeing them from the constant hassle of monitoring their blood and administering insulin.
Tangible benefits from these research developments may take a while to develop, but Samoa said there are many things diabetics can do now to take care of their health and minimize the risk of complications. This includes keeping a close eye on their blood sugar levels, getting to and maintaining a normal weight, reducing stress and exercising regularly.    
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