One hundred years ago this week, a Canadian surgeon named Frederick Banting successfully extracted insulin from a dog’s pancreas and used it to reduce another dog’s blood sugar.
The discovery has provided life and hope for people with diabetes around the world.
Prior to the development of insulin, there were no successful long-term treatments for people with diabetes – especially Type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas does not produce insulin, said Jessica Milazzo, of the Conemaugh Diabetes Institute in Johnstown.
“Diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes was really a death sentence before the development of insulin,” Milazzo said.
Adults rarely survived two years after diagnosis and children usually didn’t live another year.
Today, the continued development of insulin and other medicines, along with counseling and lifestyle changes promoted by programs such as the Conemaugh Diabetes Institute, allow patients with diabetes to live longer with a better quality of life.
Milazzo is a certified diabetes educator and registered nurse at the institute.
“Type 1 diabetes has become a chronic disease,” Milazzo said. “It has helped them continue to live normal lives.”
Type 1 diabetes was formerly known as juvenile diabetes and can be caused by different factors, including genetics and some viruses, the Mayo Clinic says on its website. It usually appears during childhood or adolescence, but can appear at any age.
With Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin, which is what the body uses to allow sugar from the bloodstream to enter the body’s cells and produce energy.
Type 2 diabetes develops more slowly and affects the way the body regulates the sugar levels and the way it’s used for energy. High blood sugar levels can lead to disorders of the circulatory, nervous and immune systems.
“Type 2 diabetes tends to be a progressive disease,” Milazzo said. “For them, the body is still producing insulin, but not at sufficient amounts.”
Although many patients with Type 2 diabetes eventually end up on insulin, there are other treatment options, beginning with lifestyle changes the Diabetes Institute promotes.
Its year-long diabetes prevention program includes classes, educational materials and lifestyle coaches.
Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include a family history of diabetes, being overweight, physical inactivity and a history of gestational diabetes, Milazzo said.
Those who meet the criteria for risk factors are eligible to enroll in the diabetes prevention program without a doctor’s order, even if they haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes.
Those with elevated risk factors are considered to have prediabetes. That includes those with above-normal blood sugar levels that don’t yet reach the level to be diagnosed with diabetes.
“That’s when the pancreas isn’t working up to par,” Milazzo said. “But prediabetes can be reversed.”
The Conemaugh Diabetes Institute suggests those who think they are at risk for diabetes complete a self-evaluation by texting “health” to 600400.
Those interested in other programs and materials may call the institute at 814-534-6800.
Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.