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Medical Breakthroughs: Past and Present

Published: August 23, 2010

Throughout its history, the Post has featured breakthrough advances in medicine that revolutionize health care and transform people’s lives, helping them live longer, happier lives.

We’re happy to say that the tradition continues. In the September 2010 issue, Post writer Elizabeth Svoboda profiles eight remarkable discoveries that offer hope for practical solutions to debilitating medical problems such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and more.

Here’s a sneak peak at the upcoming issue, as well as a sampling of diabetes discoveries from the Post archives.

A Look Ahead

Artificial Pancreas (w/image and video of automated insulin delivery system)

When Tyler Wolf was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a teenager, his diabetes management routine abruptly became a looming part of his life. Like many of the nearly 24 million diabetes sufferers in the United States, Wolf had to test his blood sugar and give himself insulin injections every day. The grueling routine grated on him. He sometimes rebelled, refusing to check his blood sugar and ending up woozy and delusional as a result.

Dr. Stuart Weinzimer, an endocrinologist at Yale University, is working to ensure that someday patients like Wolf won’t have to wrangle with needles and home test strips anymore. In conjunction with Minneapolis-based Medtronic, Dr. Weinzimer is developing an “artificial pancreas” for diabetics. This automated insulin delivery system, about the size of a small paperback book, includes a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that channels real-time blood sugar readings to an insulin pump, which then directs the pump to dispense the proper amount of insulin to keep blood sugar levels in equilibrium.

Wolf was among the first patients to evaluate the device, and he was immediately impressed at how it took over the work of managing his disease for him. “The idea of never having to worry about monitoring—that’s close to a cure,” Wolf says. Dr. Weinzimer hopes that it will be commercially available within the next decade.

Here’s a video of the experimental automated insulin deliver system from Medtronic.

A Look Back

Some 70 years before Dr. Weinzimer’s work on an artificial pancreas, research by Dr. F. G. Banting and Dr. Charles Best and colleagues at the University of Toronto led to the remarkable discovery of insulin for treating diabetes, as described in the June 9, 1923, Post article “Clearing the Skies for the Sugar-Poisoned” by Woods Hutchinson, A.M., M.D., who writes:

“Although the processes concerned were extremely complicated and progress correspondingly slow, we are now happily able to announce the first positive step toward the answer of the fateful riddle [why sugar builds up in the bloodstream], one that bids fair to give new hope to all diabetics.

“This is no less than the discovery of the hormone—Greek for stimulator—or spark juice, which enables our bodies to burn sugar and whose absence makes us diabetic.”

By May 15, 1948, the Post reported in “What Your Should Know About Diabetes” by Steven M. Spencer, that Dr. Priscilla White’s “baby-saving program” had dramatically decreased infant deaths by treating diabetic mothers with insulin shots during pregnancy. The US Public Health Service was conducting blood testing of entire communities, and leading expert Dr. Elliott Joslin (founder of today’s renowned Joslin Center in Boston) was described as a zealous archfoe of diabetes who was unmatched “in spreading hope among the known diabetics and urging intensive search for the unknown ones”.

Oral pills for older people with mild diabetes made their American debut in the August 24, 1957, issue of the Post. The article, “Good News for Diabetics” written by Milton Silverman, chronicled the accidental discovery and eventual controversial FDA approval of tolbutamide (Orinase). Early research by French physician Dr. Auguste Loubatieres in sulfa drugs ultimately gave rise to the new pill but was overlooked for more than a decade, wrote Silverman.

Download this article as a PDF“Clearing the Skies for the Sugar-Poisoned” by Woods Hutchinson, published June 9, 1923. Download this article as a PDF“What Your Should Know About Diabetes” by Steven M. Spencer, published May 15, 1948. Download this article as a PDF“Good News for Diabetics” by Milton Silverman, published August 24, 1957.

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