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Diabetes Now & Then: ‘Diabetes Rising’ and Dan Hurley Tells Us Why

The author shares implications for the future of diabetes

Laura KolodjeskiLaura Kolodjeski

Dan Hurley

In Monday’s post, Dan Hurley, author of Diabetes Rising, discussed how he has lived with type 1 diabetes for 36 years, some of the differences in diabetes care from then to now, and how his work as a journalist has, over time, provided him insight into many changes in the field of diabetes.

I wanted to take a few moments to dig deeper into Dan’s book Diabetes Rising. Given both a personal and professional interest in the area of diabetes, Dan said he wanted to see if he could find any reasons why he had seen such a dramatic increase in the number of people living with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

“Obviously there is some genetic component, but if it’s only a genetic component, why is type 1 now 5 times more likely than it was in the ’50s? Most estimates have type 1 growing by 8 percent a year in the U.S.,” Dan said. “When I was on my college campus, I didn’t know anyone else with diabetes. Now on my block, my friend’s wife has type 1. The guy around the corner has type 1. The teenager across the street has type 1. The editor of the local paper has type 1. My other good buddy, the guy I hang out with the most has type 1.”

Dan said he also saw a story about the high rate of type 1 diabetes at one school in the Boston area and wanted to find out more.

“I started talking to people in the Boston suburbs and there were these clusters of people with type 1. The parents were really freaked out about what was going on. From there, I talked to the Center for Disease Control and found out they had done a study. It was increasing every year all around the world. Obviously the genes are not changing. What is in the environment is changing,” Dan said.

While he devotes whole sections of his book to current case studies, Dan also begins his book with a look at the history of diabetes care.

“In doing historical research, it’s wild to realize that until the 1800s and even into the later 1800s, doctors rarely saw diabetes,” Dan said. “But you’ve seen how common it’s become, almost everyone knows someone with diabetes.”

Dan also spends time in his book talking about the work for a cure. He said when he was first diagnosed in the ’70s, the medical care he was receiving was relaxed because many thought a cure for diabetes was right around the corner.

“Back then, people were on the happy train. People thought a cure would be done in a few years since they had done mouse experiments where they had transplanted the beta cells and poof the mouse was cleared of diabetes,” Dan said. “There was a certain reasonable basis that they did it in mice, the next step was people. It just didn’t work. It still has not worked.”

With much work being done on a possible cure, Dan said his research for the book was promising. But a cure is not something Dan counts on ever seeing.

“My takeaway is that this isn’t going to happen in my lifetime. It might. But there is a lot of basic science that has to continue to go on,” Dan said. “Will we ever cure cancer? I think we will one day. Will it happen in ten years? I don’t think so. The same goes for diabetes. But maybe there is some guy working away in a lab right now that has the answer. I don’t know. I just think the immune system is so sophisticated.”

While there may be some hope in sight, one of the things that Dan said he found in doing his research for Diabetes Rising is that there have not been the giant medical advancements in diabetes like there have been for some other diseases.

“It’s been a lot of baby steps, lots and lots of baby steps,” Dan said. “Insulin has gotten better. The delivery of it is better. You have short and long term. The ability to test your blood sugar from home. You have the findings that tight control is what you’ve got to do. But those were all very gradual.”

However, Dan added that the life expectancy for those with diabetes has gone up and it’s not a “death sentence” anymore.

“I didn’t think I would make it to 65. But now people are running marathons with it,” Dan said. “It’s still a big royal pain in the butt and I guess it is a revolution. It’s a slow motion revolution based on all sorts of little developments.”

Although many of the advancements in diabetes have been small steps, it’s incredibly informative to read about those steps in a single story, like what appears in Diabetes Rising. I know Dan has been asked to speak many times about his book and I think his work is getting people thinking about diabetes in new ways – which is a major accomplishment. A big thanks to Dan for taking the time to share his story with us!

All the best,
Laura K.

Disclosure: Dan Hurley received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

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  1. tmana
    December 7th, 2011, 8:52 AM

    While one cannot discount teratogenic/somatic mutations and environmental triggers, one thing to consider is that when people died a year after a type 1 diagnosis, they were generally too young to have had children (to pass on the gene). Another is that, until recently, women with diabetes were advised never to bear children — most who did, did so against medical advice. Both of these would result in greater distribution of “diabetes genes” in the general population (and thereby, greater chance of environmental triggers activating those genes).

    1. Laura
      December 7th, 2011, 12:52 PM

      Thanks for commenting, tmana, and for sharing your additional points with our readers. One of the things I really enjoyed about Dan’s book is that he helps bring light to the broad range of theories and does so in manner that helps make them easier to understand.

      Laura K.