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Marking The 100th Anniversary Of Insulin's Discovery, Imperial College London Diabetes Center Reflects On Advances In Treatment

08 Dec 2021
Abu Dhabi

Experts from Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICDLC), a Mubadala Health partner, are spreading awareness of the fact that people with diabetes can now live long, full lives thanks to advances in healthcare since the game-changing discovery of insulin, which marks its centenary this year.

Mubadala Health partner’s urge the community not to be scared to be tested or seek necessary medical care for diabetes. In line with the campaign theme, ICLDC experts are also emphasising the importance of timely treatment to avoid developing serious complications that arise if the disease is left untreated.

Dr Emad George, consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist and Medical Director of ICLDC, says that we can trace the roots of modern diabetes care devices back to the game-changing discovery of insulin. “Before the discovery of insulin by Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best in 1921, the life expectancy for people with diabetes was short, and the only treatments available were extremely strict low-carbohydrate or low-calorie diets, which merely extended a patient’s lifespan by a few years,” he says.

After insulin was administered to the first human patient in 1922, news of the discovery spread quickly, earning Banting and his laboratory director a Nobel prize in 1923. While saving millions of lives, this insulin was produced from animals, and caused allergic reactions in some patients, Dr George explains. In 1978, however, the first genetically engineered synthetic insulin was produced, and after this, further refinements were made and, eventually, ultra-rapid and ultra-long-lasting formulas came into being.

“Today, people who require insulin to treat their diabetes can choose from an array of formulas and delivery methods that best suit their lifestyles,” says Dr George.

He explains that the introduction of insulin pumps has freed individuals from the need to inject themselves several times a day. “Some of these pumps are linked to glucose-monitoring devices and automatically adjust insulin levels as needed. Others are standalone pumps, which have a background drip of insulin that mimics that of a healthy pancreas, but can be adjusted when activities such as exercising or a specific meal are likely to cause a significant fluctuation in blood sugar levels.”

He says: “There are also many ways to measure our glucose levels now. For example, our patients can choose a wearable continuous glucose-monitoring device that either sends real-time data to their phone or similar device, or one that they can intermittently scan to check their glucose levels. This way, there is no need for manual finger-prick testing if the patient needs regular checks to evaluate their insulin or medication requirements.”

Dr George also points to a second significant discovery that spurred advances in treatment, namely the differentiation between type 1 and type 2 diabetes by British Scientist Sir Harold Percival Himsworth in 1936.

“Through further studies, we now know that we can often treat type 2 – which is not an autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes – with lifestyle changes and other types of medications. At ICLDC, we even have a clinic that helps suitable patients send type 2 diabetes into remission through weight loss,” he says.

Another way technology is being used to enhance diabetes care, says Dr George, is in the ability to provide teleconsultations and virtual diabetes clinics. “We can now reach patients even in remote areas, which is particularly useful for follow-up appointments,” he says.

However, technology cannot replace the human touch, Dr George stresses. “Providing support to the patient and their family after a diagnosis is an extremely important part of the treatment plan. We have a multidisciplinary team that includes diabetes doctors and diabetes educators who advise patients on the best monitoring and treatment options for their individual needs, as well as psychologists for emotional support, dietitians, and physicians to monitor or treat diabetes complications – for example kidney, foot and heart experts, among others. We all work together with the patient and their loved ones to ensure that they can manage their condition well and lead the best lives possible,” he says.

“Diabetes should never be seen as some sort of life sentence. With all the advances in care and knowledge that we have today, people can live long, happy lives and use modern devices and lifestyle changes to prevent, manage or even reverse diabetes,” Dr George concludes.

“ICLDC’s message to the community is to get tested, particularly if you have a family history of diabetes, are over the age of 45 or have a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome or gestational diabetes. Similarly, individuals and parents should watch for common signs of diabetes, such as increased thirst or urination, weight loss, fatigue or extreme hunger, and get tested if necessary.”

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