Transforming Lives Through Diabetes Research

There’s no worse fear for a parent than the possibility that your child may not wake up in the morning. That became my family’s reality when my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at seven years old. And unfortunately, families across the nation are facing the same scary reality and wondering what is being done to change it.

Today, I will sit alongside more than 150 children with T1D and their families, including 2013 NBA champion Ray Allen from the Miami Heat, to be the face and voice of T1D in front of Congress and the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging and convey the importance of a multi-year renewal of the Special Diabetes Program (SDP). Ray Allen and I know what it means to raise a son diagnosed with T1D and he shares my unrelenting passion for SDP research that will help our children live better lives and will, one day, provide a cure.

The SDP is a major reason for significant achievements and progress in the path towards a cure. Since 1997, the SDP – directed by the National Institutes of Health – has been an essential source of the funds that have made large-scale, long-term research projects possible. Thanks to the SDP and research funded by JDRF and the private sector, we are making progress. But that progress can and will be stifled without a strong commitment by our elected officials to ensure continuous program funding for multiple years.

Diabetes is taking a serious toll on the nation. Directly, and indirectly as a result of the health complications it causes, diabetes imposes huge costs on our society. It is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness in working age adults and amputations unrelated to injuries. It’s a major risk factor for heart attack and strokes and a contributor to more than 230,000 deaths a year.

The disease cost $245 billion in medical and economic expenses last year, and those costs are continuing to rise at highly alarming rates. According to a new study released today, diabetes costs are expected to more than double in the next eight years — from $245 billion in 2012 to $512 billion by 2020. The study also shows that Medicare costs from diabetes will also double, increasing from $104 billion to $226 billion in 2020.

The SDP offers the hope we need — and the hope our children deserve — to reduce the incidence and impact of diabetes. The SDP is helping accelerate development of the artificial pancreas, a device which would help T1D patients manage their blood sugar levels and reduce medical complications and the biggest advance since insulin. A recent study showed that this would potentially save Medicare $1 billion over 25 years. Researchers have also found that intensive glucose control over six and a half years can cut in half the onset of kidney disease. A 50 percent reduction in end stage renal disease could save Medicare $126 billion over 25 years.

This is an exciting time in diabetes research, with the SDP resulting in potential therapies that could transform millions of lives and improve the fiscal health of our nation. We cannot afford to stop now. The SDP must be renewed for an additional three years to ensure we are sending the right message to not only the children and their families here with me in DC today but those across the nation who bear its costs every day.