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New Hope for People with Diabetes

May 01, 2012

Washington Hospital Seminar Focuses on Advances in Research

If you or a loved one has diabetes, you know how difficult it can be keeping it under control. Research has played a major role in the treatment of diabetes and new research could mean even better outcomes for people with the chronic disease.

"The treatment and control of diabetes is a huge issue because so many people are affected by the disease," said Kevin Bronson-Castain, a registered nurse at Washington Hospital who has conducted research into diabetes-related eye disease. "About 26 million people in this country have diabetes."

He will talk about some of the latest research at an upcoming seminar titled "Research: Advancing Diabetes Management" on Thursday, May 3, from 7 to 8 p.m. It will be held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West), in Fremont. The seminar is part of Washington Hospital's free monthly Diabetes Matters education series.

Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or is not able to use it properly. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to utilize sugar, starches, and other food as energy. When this process doesn't work properly, glucose levels in the blood can get too high.

"Diabetes can impact every system in the body," Bronson-Castain said. "Complications include heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, gum disease, kidney failure, and eye disease. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the working-age population. The goal of diabetes research is to minimize complications and improve quality of life."

Type 2 Diabetes

Most of Bronson-Castain's discussion will focus on type 2 diabetes, which represents 90 to 95 percent of the cases. He will touch on one of the biggest advances in the treatment of type 1 diabetes: the delivery of insulin via insulin pumps. People with type 1 diabetes don't produce insulin and must take insulin every day to control their blood glucose. Research has been directed at creating what is essentially an artificial pancreas, he added

He will talk about some of the research around gastric bypass surgery and type 2 diabetes. Research shows that a large percentage of people with type 2 diabetes and morbid obesity who undergo gastric bypass surgery experience resolution of their diabetes in a very short period of time.

Bronson-Castain said it's not yet clear how the surgery works, but it could lead to new treatments for insulin insensitivity, which is often associated with obesity. New research is being conducted to better understand the hormonal and other changes that make gastric bypass surgery such a successful treatment in the hope that medications could be developed that would result in the same response without the potential complications associated with the surgery.

Diabetes Management

Other research is being conducted into the behavioral aspects of diabetes. Lifestyle factors like a proper diet, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight are critical for keeping blood glucose levels under control and avoiding serious complications of the disease. But often it can be hard for many people to make the necessary lifestyle changes and stick with them, Bronson-Castain said.

"Diabetes can be an incredibly burdensome condition sometimes," he added. "We talk about necessary lifestyle changes as if they are easy, but many people really struggle with them. Their motivation wanes after a while. We need to find ways to help people stay motivated."

Bronson-Castain will also talk about some of the genetic research that is taking place.

"We know there is a genetic component to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes," he explained. "If we can identify the genes that contribute to diabetes development maybe we can introduce treatments early on and prevent or reduce complications."

Finally, Bronson-Castain will discuss the benefits and risks of becoming a test subject as well as some of the local research projects that are looking for participants. While people with diabetes can have access to leading-edge pharmacological treatments by participating in some of these studies, they could also face adverse side-effects.

"I'll provide some questions they need to ask before getting involved," he said. "It's important to ask about the benefits and risks, how they will be kept safe, what happens if something goes wrong, and whether they will be compensated. Taking part in a study can be very time-consuming but very rewarding."

To learn about other diabetes programs at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com/diabetes.