As many of life’s day-to-day activities have come to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to manage type 1 diabetes (T1D) continues. T1D does not stop, so we must not stop the research that has put us on the path toward cures.
T1D is an autoimmune disease that requires constant close monitoring to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. COVID-19 has challenged people across the country, including the nearly 1.6 million Americans who have T1D and rely on insulin to stay alive. The needs of the T1D community and other groups with chronic conditions have not gone away because we’re combating a global pandemic.
In people with T1D, the immune system mistakes the pancreas’ insulin-producing beta cells as foreign and attacks them. Beta cell and immune therapies are the most encouraging paths to cure T1D. Scientists at leading research institutions are pursuing therapies designed to stop the immune attack on beta cells, and then to also create or replace the beta cells.
As we pursue cures, we are developing new ways to manage and treat T1D to improve lives. These advances, including technology such as continuous glucose monitors, insulin pumps, and artificial pancreas systems, are ways for people to better manage their glucose levels and remotely share information with their physicians — something especially important now when in-person visits are not always possible.
Until cures are a reality for the entire T1D community, these new management options must be available to everyone at a reasonable cost. Access and affordability to necessary T1D therapies and technology will prevent serious complications and hospitalizations, keeping people well and saving money for the entire healthcare system.
The public and private sectors must continue support for new research, even during these uncertain times. In March, congress extended the Special Diabetes Program (SDP), which funds research through the National Institutes of Health, but this funding will expire again in November.
A multi-year renewal of SDP is the best way to help scientists plan long-term research projects pursuant of cures and meaningful work. Researchers cannot afford to delay projects already in progress, and they may not take on promising new opportunities if there is a chance funding will stop.
Just as people across the country have come together in response to COVID-19, we must also come together to support research to cure diseases such as T1D.