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As type 1 diabetes expands nationwide and in CT, Congress approves more money for research

In the lab at Novartis, Diabetes Metabolism Research Group scientist Jie Zhang prepares samples for real-time PCR (Polymerize Chain Reaction). Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Inc. is to announce a $4 million collaboration with Harvard, MIT and the Broad Institute to identify genetics of adult-onset diabetes. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Suzanne Kreiter
The Boston Globe via Getty Image
In the lab at Novartis, Diabetes Metabolism Research Group scientist Jie Zhang prepares samples for real-time PCR (Polymerize Chain Reaction).

A federal program researching type 1 diabetes was recently allocated more funding by Congress to study how to prevent and cure the condition.

Congress approved an additional $10 million for the Special Diabetes Program, a special program administered by the National Institutes of Health. The additional money, which was approved Friday, drives up the program’s annual funding to $160 million.

The allocation comes as rates of type 1 diabetes are rising nationally and in Connecticut.

People with type 1 diabetes are unable to make insulin, or make very little insulin, which prevents blood sugar from entering cells. High blood sugar is damaging to the body and can cause severe, life-threatening complications.

Little is known about what causes type 1 diabetes, but endocrinologists believe it has a genetic component.

“We know it's an autoimmune disease that physically destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, [but] what triggers the autoimmunity at the individual level is not clear at all,” Dr. Francesco Celi, chair of the Department of Medicine at UConn Health, says.

Type 1 diabetes rates are going up, Celi says, and the demographic is expanding to older adults.

“It is what was previously known as juvenile diabetes except that it’s in individuals who are 30, 40, 50 years old,” he says.

The condition is also expanding to new demographics, Celi says, including Black and Hispanic populations.

As rates go up and populations impacted by type 1 diabetes expand, access to care remains a barrier, despite Medicaid expansion in Connecticut, which improved access to medication and insulin pumps.

Certain demographic groups still have trouble accessing the full spectrum of care they would need to manage the condition, Celi says, including diabetes educators, dieticians, and support groups.

Congress created the Special Diabetes Program in the late 90s to fund research on type 1 diabetes and to narrow the disproportionate burden of type 2 diabetes on American Indians and Alaska Natives.

In a statement, the head of JDRF, a nonprofit that funds type 1 diabetes research, praised Congress’ recent funding boost for the program.

“JDRF is thrilled the Special Diabetes Program has been renewed until December 2024 — and with a much-needed increase in funding — ensuring that critical type 1 diabetes research continues,” Aaron Kowalski, CEO of JDRF, says.

Across America, more than 38 million people have diabetes. American Indians and Alaska Natives are almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than white adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than 1.7 million adults and 304,000 children and teenagers have type 1 diabetes, according to the CDC. According to the T1D Index, a data simulation tool that provides the a global picture of type 1 diabetes, the condition is growing 2.9% each year in the U.S.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.
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