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Making History

Milestones in Diabetes Treatment

Research leads to great strides and hope for a cure

Diabetes has been around for a long time. It was described in an Egyptian manuscript from c. 1500 BCE as “too great emptying of the urine.” The term “diabetes” was first used in 230 BCE by Appollonius of Memphis. The Indian physicians Sushruta and Charaka designated Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes between 400-500 CE. English physician John Rolle added the term “mellitus” or “from honey” in the late 1700s. Since then, the search has continued for a cure for the disease.

English physiologist Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer’s study of the pancreas led him to discover insulin in 1910. The first effective treatment for diabetes was developed in the early 20th century when Canadians Frederick Banting and Charles Herbert Best isolated and purified insulin. They extracted the substance from dog pancreases, then injected it into dogs whose pancreases had been removed. They discovered the dogs’ blood sugar levels went down. James Collip purified the extract so it could be used in humans.

 By 1923, Eli Lilly and Company had begun commercial production of insulin.

Innovations in insulin delivery and blood-sugar monitoring over the years include the production of a standardized insulin syringe in 1949; tablets for testing urine glucose in 1953, followed by urine test strips; oral medications in 1955; and injectable treatment for severe hypoglycemia in 1961. 

The Ames Company produced the first glucose meter in 1970. The first portable insulin pump was introduced in 1978, although it was too large to be practical at the time.

The first successful pancreas transplant was performed at the University of Minnesota Hospital in 1966. In the 1970s, laser treatment became an effective therapy for some forms of diabetic retinopathy, and while transplantation of pancreas and islet cells showed some success in animals, the procedure was less successful in humans. A promising step toward a cure occurred in the 1980s, when the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporine was developed to treat patients with type 1 diabetes and prevent it in patients at risk. In 1982, the FDA approved human insulin produced by genetically altered bacteria, and clinical trials of metformin performed in the United States showed beneficial results in treating type 2 diabetes.

 It became available in 1995.

In 1987

, the 64K autoantibody, glutamate decarboxylase, originally discovered in 1982, was found to be predictive of type 1 diabetes. When the immune system attacks this important enzyme, it triggers a progressive autoimmune response that leads to diabetes.

 In 1988, Dr. Massimo Trucco and Dr. John A. Todd discovered a specific genetic abnormality in 96 percent of focus patients with type 1 diabetes, indicating that those with this abnormality have a more than one-hundredfold risk of developing diabetes. In the 1990s, the discovery of the incretin hormone GLP-1 led to a new class of diabetes drugs that increase insulin secretion in response to glucose. Eli Lilly and Company introduce Lispro, the world’s fastest acting insulin, in 1996. Exubera, the first inhaled form of insulin to be FDA approved for adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, was introduced in 2006.

The holy grail in diabetes research – to find a cure or effective preventative for the disease – is still being sought.

Source: The American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org). The ADA was established in 1940 to address the growing problem of diabetes and its accompanying complications.



5 thoughts on “Milestones in Diabetes Treatment

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