"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Long-term survivors are helping to unravel the mysteries of type 1 diabetes.

It's hard to assume what it was prefer to live with type 1 diabetes 80 years ago. Insulin was a brand latest and comparatively untested drug, the one technique to test blood sugar levels was through a boiled urine test, syringes needed to be sterilized, and needles were sharpened by hand. Combine these challenges with the common complications of diabetes—heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, blindness, and more—and the life expectancy of an individual with type 1 diabetes has never been longer.

Spencer M. Wallace Jr. was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1931 at age 7. He just isn’t alone as a long-term survivor. Since 1970, nearly 3,500 men and ladies who’ve lived with the disease for half a century have been recognized with 50-year bronze medals by Boston's Joslin Diabetes Center. Forty-five of them, including Mr. Wallace, have accomplished 75 years.

A study involving Several hundred 50-year-old medalists It's changing experts' understanding of type 1 diabetes, and will result in latest ways to guard people from the damage it causes.

Surprising differences

Type 1 diabetes was once called juvenile-onset diabetes since it strikes at a young age. Over time, the high blood sugar levels that characterize diabetes can damage blood vessels, nerves, and various other tissues.

In individuals with type 1 diabetes, as much as 90% develop damage to the retina of the attention (a condition called diabetic retinopathy) inside 20 years of their diagnosis. Of the Joslin Medalists, nonetheless, only half developed diabetic retinopathy after living with the disease for 50 years. As reported within the journal Diabetes care, Medalists also experienced much less kidney damage and nerve damage than is anticipated for individuals who have lived with type 1 diabetes for a few years.

Notably, in greater than two-thirds of the study participants, beta cells within the pancreas were still making small amounts of insulin. “If we can find a way to stimulate these beta cells to be more active, it may be possible to restore the body's ability to make insulin,” Cannon said.

Look ahead

Joslin Diabetes Center investigators are working to discover what helps these cells survive and produce insulin. In the meantime, Cannon and his colleagues proceed to recruit, interview and test medalists, on the lookout for patterns and possibilities which may help others live longer and live higher lives with type 1 diabetes. A surprising commonality: “It's amazing how many medalists say they enjoy ballroom dancing,” Cannon says.

Although living with type 1 diabetes still has its challenges, it's much easier for the Jocelyn 50-year-old medalist than it was when she was first diagnosed. Blood sugar can now be checked in seconds (even though it's still difficult with finger suggestions); Several varieties of long- and short-acting insulin can be found to manage blood sugar. And easy-to-use insulin pens have replaced syringes. By improving blood sugar control, these advances are helping individuals with diabetes live longer. Lessons learned from 50-year-old medalists will help them live higher lives.