Jeanette Forbes: Healthy advances in battling diabetes

Managing Type 1 diabetes is a constant challenge for more than 30,000 adults and children living in ­Scotland. This daily challenge involves calculating carbohydrate content in food at every meal time and monitoring blood glucose ­levels throughout the day and night, as well as injecting insulin several times a day.

Jeanette Forbes is the Chairperson of the JDRF Scottish Development Group
Jeanette Forbes is the Chairperson of the JDRF Scottish Development Group

Ensuring new treatments and ­therapies, such as blood glucose ­sensors, insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors, reach those living with the condition is a ­public health concern that the Scottish ­Government has embraced wholeheartedly.

But whilst easing the challenge of Type 1 diabetes is important, so too is innovation.

At the Type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, as well as supporting research projects aimed at treatment, we help fund research that seeks to prevent and ultimately cure this condition.

Managing Type 1 diabetes can be time-consuming for patients

As part of a pre-Christmas funding campaign we supported the development and testing of a world-leading, UK-based artificial pancreas project. The research project is run by Dr Roman Hovorka at the University of Cambridge and we hope the artificial pancreas will be approved and ­commercially available in Europe very soon.

An artificial pancreas consists of a continuous glucose monitor, an ­insulin pump and an algorithm, working together to automatically measure and regulate background blood glucose levels.

It significantly reduces the worry and guesswork from managing Type 1 diabetes and has the potential to be transformational for those with the condition.

For instance, there would not be the anxiety, especially overnight, regarding ‘hypos’ – when blood ­glucose ­levels drop dangerously low. In 2015, twelve year old Daniel was one of a handful of youngsters who took part in clinical trials to test an ­artificial pancreas. Under the care of Dr ­Hovorka and his team, Daniel used this pioneering technology over three months and saw first-hand the difference it could make.

Managing Type 1 diabetes can be time-consuming for patients

Waking up the day after having the device fitted, Daniel felt instantly ­better because for once he had not been disturbed in the night to check his glucose levels. Sometimes he would be woken several times in the night and it was affecting his school work.

For the first time in years, Daniel – and the whole family – could sleep through the night, while his energy levels increased enormously.

Meanwhile, in London, JDRF is ­supporting a project developing a technique to form the basis of a test to help predict, diagnose and treat Type 1 diabetes. It could identify people at risk of Type 1 who do not test positive for any of the four key immune system proteins associated with the condition. This would also add to our understanding of how to prevent the onset of Type 1 diabetes.

In Oxford, another project is exploring the way a particular immune ­system activity contributes to the development of Type 1 diabetes. Treatments that target this activity have been shown to be effective in treating other autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. In Scotland, too, where we have some of the world’s very best researchers and clinicians, JDRF is funding Type 1 ­diabetes studies.

They are making an impact on our approaches to treating complications such as kidney disease and hypo unawareness, giving those with Type 1 the best quality of life possible.

JDRF promotes international ­collaboration. Optimism internationally within the Type 1 diabetes sphere is high and we hope that there will be more major breakthroughs in 2018. This progress would not be possible without your continued support, for which we are extremely grateful.

Jeanette Forbes is the chairperson of the JDRF Scottish Development Group.