Patient 13: A Possible Cure for Diabetes


When I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 22 (19 years ago for those who don’t want to do the math), my doctor told me not to worry. Diabetics could live “nearly normal” lives, by which I figured he meant taking quiet walks on the beach and holding down a steady job. I was pretty sure my adventurous lifestyle was out of the question. He also told me that in the next five or ten years there would probably be a cure for diabetes. They were that close.

I believed him. I thought I had nothing to worry about. All the bad “complications” of the disease (isn’t that a nice way of putting it?) wouldn’t have time to set in. I was practically off scott free. No need to worry about blindness or amputating a limb or heart disease. They were ON THE VERGE of a cure. Besides I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Just ask my husband. Give me a goal, and I’ll outreach it. My A1C (the little blood test number used to check how good or bad you’ve been for the trailing 3 months, kind of like Santa’s little list but way more important) has always been in the normal range. My doctor once told me I was a “rockstar patient”. I tried not to let that go to my head.

I am also exceedingly optimistic. I kept repeating my doctor’s earlier mantra–there’s going to a cure for this disease ANY DAY NOW. I was sure of it. Until it dawned on me. No one had gotten any closer to a cure since I was diagnosed. The only news about Diabetes was of the Type 2 kind. T1 and T2 are actually not even the same disease at all. The result–a pancreas that doesn’t produce adequate insulin–is the same. But the cause is entirely different. And since most people have T2 diabetes, very little seemed to be happening on the T1 front.

Or at least that’s what I thought. A “cure” for T1 diabetes would be some way of transplanting the pancreatic cells that create insulin (aka islet cells). Until now, these transplants all lead to rejection. But now, Scott King and Hanuman Medical Foundation have created the Islet Sheet, which is a device that produces these cells but protects them from the patient’s immune system. King, a diabetic himself, will be the 13th patient in his own study, which hopes to implant these protected sheets under the skin of patients and essentially cure them of diabetes.

Needless to say, my fingers are crossed. Patient 13 is a documentary film based on the study, following the patient’s progress. While the study hasn’t yet started on humans, they are moving quickly.

Here’s a look at the trailer for the project. Let’s hope this thing works.


15 responses »

  1. I like but have to wonder at books like Mark Hyman’s The Blood Sugar Solution that all but say that eating their way is a cure for diabetes. Hope the study brings good news on real progress.

    • Thanks Vicki. I haven’t read Hyman’s book, but wonder if its more aimed at Type 2 diabetics, whose disease can be managed with diet and exercise. If that’s all it took, I’d follow whatever diet was necessary.

  2. Thanks for posting this.

    I am also a Type 1 diabetic, since age 10 or 11 (just turned 50 two days ago). Also the local connection (my dad was a patroller at Ski Acres/ The Summitt, many moons ago. I have a season’s pass at Stevens but have been enjoying spring skiing at Crystal).

    I’ve been pretty physcially active over the years. Physical activity and sports have to be taken with some forethought. I can’t tell you how many times I had low blood sugar reactions when being physiclly active. I think I’ve got it down pretty well these days. That said, I never ski without a glucose monitor, extra insulin, snacks and Vitamin water, which is why I always ski with my backpack. If I were to ever start backcountry I’d need a bigger pack for more of the same as well as all the BC essentials.

    Diabetes, expecially Type I, is an everyday management task that get complicated at times. Effective, affordable islet transplants would make life a whole lot simpler. Even though I’ve been pretty healthy over the years, I have still had complications from diabetes. So yes, it would be great to have a cure in our lifetime. Crossing my fingers.

    Regardless, I’m planning to increase my skiing time each year.

    Rock on Kim!

    • Thanks for the comment David. Once I got married and started on health insurance, I invested in an insulin pump. It has been a game changer–allowing me much for flexibility and spontaneity. This is especially important as a ski patroller, since I never know what the day will bring. It has also freed me from the insulin kit I used to bring with me everywhere. I still have a glucometer on hand, but the insulin is in the pump.

      Way to keep skiing and doing whatever it takes. T1 Diabetes isn’t a death sentence, but a very forceful reminder to take good care of yourself.

    • Hey David and Kim. I too was diagnosed with T1 when I was 10 (27 years ago). I didn’t have good parents, so control my first 8 years was not great at all (especially for a kid, you need a good team surrounding you), but luckily I played college football and was forced to look at my insulin/diet/workout regimen in order to be at peak performance. Thankfully, after college I picked up endurance activities (SkiMo, Long Distance Cycling, Rowing, etc) which have transformed my diabetes and my life.

      I have not had any kind of complications (yet). My last A1C was 6.0. I use the new DexCom which has really dialed-in my diabetes…especially when doing any kind of physical activity. It has shown me the “cause-and-effect” of everything in my diet and training. I take 2 doses of Lantus in the AM and PM. Humalog with meals, as needed.

      I was enrolled at the Univ of Minn. Islet cell program several years back. They had very good results with getting the islets to “stick”, but the auto-immune suppressants carried alot of side affects. The only scary one for me was sterility (I was newly married at the time and well…we wanted to start a family). I was so excited that they have the cure, but it seems they are in the fine-tuning stages. I truly feel, along with the staff at the U, that the cure is right there. They’re close. We are close.

      Keep up the Good Work Kim (..and David)

        • Hey Kim, here’s an update for me: I started using my T:Slim insulin pump in July, very easy-to-use touch screen, very compact pump that holds 300 units, basically a week’s worth of insulin for me. I have also acquired a Dexcon G4 CGM (continuos glucose monitor).

          It’s different feeling “wired up” and constantly tethered, having both the cannula for the pump and the sensor/transmitter for the CGM attached 24/7. It’s also different paying much more attention to my blood glucose levels and counting carbs with every meal.

          That said, in some ways it’s simpler, I can check my glucose levels at a glance and dose a correction bolus, for example, without getting out of bed, or if I’m out walking the dog. I’m all set to go somewhere at any time since my pump and the CGM sensor are always with me (just have to remember the CGM receiver). Eventually Tandem and Dexcom are supposed to get FDA approval for the T:Slim pump to interface with the Dexcom sensor/transmitter and do it all with one device, supposedly even an “artificial pancreas” in which insulin delivery responds automatically to the sensor, without the individual having to take the glucose readings and enter them into the pump for dosing.

          Be interesting to see the findings of the islet sheet trial.

          In the meantime, snow is finally starting to accumulate in the Cascades and I can’t wait to get back on the slopes. Planning to to teach again this year at Stevens.

  3. It’s difficult to say what I like most about this post: another score for the wonders of science, the hope and possibility it represents for so many people, or the opportunity it represents for you specifically (since I’ve come to like and admire you so much). I guess what really blows me away is the way you live your life with such all-embracing gusto that no one would ever suspect you had any health problems unless you told them. Your doctor is right: you are a rock star!

    • What a lovely comment Cara. Thank you. If you only knew how much being a rock star in other’s eyes means to me. Far too much I’m afraid. But as a diabetic it motivates me to be the best diabetic in the history of mankind. Not that it’s possible, but it’s good to have a goal.

  4. As I watch the families in my community who have a child with diabetes, I am reminded of how much they do to keep their children’s lives as normal as possible. I hope a cure is found soon not just to give the children a more normal life, but also release the fear they all carry for their children. Thanks for sharing this information.

  5. Hope this is a success. that would be wonderful to have a way to conquer T1 diabetes. I know a couple men quite a bit older than you who are still hanging in there with T1 – one is 69 (met him on my trip to Bhutan, my trekking and bus buddy) and still doing Himalayan treks, he was diagnosed over 50 years ago. He did have major heart surgery a few years ago but has been back to Nepal since then. I sorta feel the same way about Alzheimer’s – early onset runs in my family (grandmother, father) and 20 years ago they told me not to worry, they would have a cure before I could be affected. Now I worry every time I repeat a question I just asked, forget names, why I came into a room, etc. They think it starts decades early.

    So I guess all we can do is try to live as healthfully as possible. I really struggle with my sweet tooth though.

  6. Pingback: Patient 13: A Possible Cure for Diabetes « Kim Kircher | Control Diabetes

You people are amazing. Thanks for commenting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s