From Mayo Clinic's Discovery's Edge magazine.
Nearly everyone knows someone with diabetes — it's hard not to. In the United States, 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 6 children have high blood sugar, according to the National Institutes of Health.
After you eat, glucose is absorbed into your bloodstream and carried throughout your body. Insulin — a hormone made by beta cells in your pancreas — then signals your cells to take up glucose, helping your body turn the food into energy.
With diabetes, this process can go wrong in two basic ways: Type 1 diabetes results from the body's failure to produce insulin; type 2 diabetes occurs when there's plenty of insulin but the cells lose their ability to perceive its signal. In both cases, cells starve.
Living well with diabetes requires a lifelong commitment to monitoring blood sugar, eating properly, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight. People with type 1 diabetes must also rely on insulin replacement therapy, usually through insulin injections. People with type 2 diabetes might need oral medication.
Still, every year, diabetes kills about 70,000 people in the United States and is a contributing cause in another 160,000 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yasuhiro Ikeda, D.V.M., Ph.D., a molecular biologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., wants to change that.
After beginning his career as a veterinary feline specialist, Dr. Ikeda had to change course when he developed an allergy to his four-legged patients that made it impossible to be in a room with them. He turned his attention toward research and discovered that his interest in molecular virology had human as well as feline applications.
The story of one Mayo Clinic patient with diabetes turned Dr. Ikeda's attention back toward healing.
"He had to have his legs amputated, then went blind, then developed kidney disease," Dr. Ikeda recalls. "He couldn't walk, couldn't see, and one day he decided not to come in. He refused treatment and died a few days later. That story stays in my mind. That's why I'm here now, because this new technology may really change things."
And that's why Dr. Ikeda and his research team are screening hundreds of thousands of compounds to discover potential drugs to treat type 2 diabetes — drugs that don't lead to crashing blood sugar levels.
Dr. Ikeda — known as Ike to friends and colleagues — is also working toward developing a cure for type 1 diabetes. He plans to use gene therapy to prevent pancreatic beta cell loss in patients newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
"We are almost there," he says.