Canadian scientist and doctor, Sir Frederick Banting, and his assistant, Charles Best, are credited with the first successful treatment of diabetes with insulin 90 years ago.
But even today, Canada ranks among the leaders in diabetes research and management.
This was part of the message delivered by keynote speaker Grant Maltman, curator of the Banting House National Historic Site of Canada, during the 2012 Canadian Diabetes Association expo, “Stamping Out Diabetes,” last Wednesday at the Adventure Inn here.
Maltman said the public tends to have a singular perspective of the discovery of insulin, going back to Banting, Best, and their experiments with a dog back in 1921.
But like any story, “that’s not the beginning or the end.”
Maltman said the first recording of the diabetes condition dates back to 1552 B.C. He then proceeded to cover the first 3,000 years of diabetes research through stamps from around the world to tell the story, finishing off with the historic moment in January, 1922 with the successful treatment of insulin in a human patient.
As remarkable as Banting’s work was, however, Maltman said insulin is not the final word in diabetes treatment.
“We think of insulin as this great cure,” he noted. “Well, it’s not a cure when you need 60,000 injections through the course of your lifetime if you’re not on the [insulin] pump.
“Banting always stressed the importance of diabetes management,” added Maltman. “There’s no other disease where you can get this intimate co-operation between both the patient and the physician.
“So you need to know the cause, the course of action, and the complications,” he explained.
“And while insulin is a great treatment, 91 years later we have better insulin but we don’t have anything better than insulin, and we have to get beyond that.”
Maltman said diabetes research is a rapidly-changing field, with the emphasis right now being on complications caused by diabetes. But there’s a two-pronged approach to research—management for people today and looking for that cure for tomorrow.
“It sounds cliché but we’re closer today than we’ve ever been before,” he enthused. “As curator of Banting House, we get these researchers coming through our building and you see there’s real excitement in their eyes.
“There’s real excitement in the community, and it’s something that we at the Canadian Diabetes Association are really excited about because we’re one of the larger funders of research here in Canada,” Maltman said.
“Last year, $6.8 million for peer-reviewed research, some of the leading research in the world,” he noted.
“And as an employee of the Canadian Diabetes Association, it’s really neat because people still look to Canada for diabetes research and management.”
Maltman said diabetes management doesn’t stop with insulin.
“For people with Type 1 diabetes, they have no choice,” he remarked. “But where we see the real explosion in diabetes is in Type 2.
“Today, there’s approximately 366 million people with diabetes around the world,” he said. “In Canada, it’s three million–we’re saying now our estimates are about nine million with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
“And so it’s really important that we eat better, we’re exercising, even just a little bit.
“A little bit of action goes a long way in treating and preventing complications,” Maltman said.
He said that if you’re managing diabetes or pre-diabetes, exercise lessens complications such as kidney disease, heart and stroke disease, blindness, and non-traumatic amputations of fingers and toes.
“It’s really important, the healthy lifestyle,” he stressed. “Getting out just 30 minutes a day dramatically reduces your risk of diabetes and that’s one of the messages we’re trying to get out.”
Maltman was well-received, speaking before about 75 people who filled the seats in the Adventure Inn ballroom.
The expo also drew a good turnout, with around 130 people coming through the doors.
About a dozen exhibitors from local agencies (like the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre, Sunset Country Métis, and Alzheimer Society), local clubs (like the Voyageur Lions Club), and local businesses (such as Pharmasave and Sunset Medical Supply) were on hand, along with companies such as Animas, which makes insulin pumps.
Exhibitors offered blood sugar tests, nutrition and fitness advice, and information on diabetes-related illnesses such as blindness.
Cindy Gauthier, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator with the local Valley Diabetes Education Centre, said their booth was busy.
Gauthier, who also received a pin last Wednesday from the Canadian Diabetes Association for five years as a CDA volunteer, said she was busy with blood sugar screenings and detected quite a few that were high.
She also found a fair number of First Nation youths were interested in diabetes-related advice, which is important given the high rate of diabetes in aboriginal peoples.
Gauthier noted the healthy food samples she and Trisha Wood had made—Larabars made of dates, almonds, and a little bit of peanut butter and chocolate—brought people to the booth—and then they stayed for the conversation.