Because of research... St. Joseph's patients mark 50 years living with type 1 diabetes

To reduce the toll of the disease, two landmark Lawson trials are recruiting patients

When Jim Palmer was diagnosed with diabetes at age 16, he felt utterly alone.

“I was the only person in the world with diabetes. That’s how I felt. In my small town, I didn’t know another person with diabetes. There was a lack of support and knowledge back then. It was like I was doing it alone.”

By “back then,” Palmer means half a century ago. This year, he marks 50 years living with insulin-dependent diabetes and is among 13 recipients of the 2012 Diabetes Half Century Awards presented by St. Joseph’s Health Care London and Novo Nordisk Canada Inc.  The awards are presented annually to St. Joseph’s patients nominated by their endocrinologist. Each receives a print of London’s Banting House to commemorate their achievement and help raise awareness of diabetes during Diabetes Awareness Month. St. Joseph’s is the only hospital in Canada that hosts the awards.

“Recipients of the Half Century Awards are role models for the current generation of patients living with diabetes,” says Dr. Irene Hramiak, chair/chief of St. Joseph’s Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism and a scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute. “We celebrate their health and encourage all those with the disease by having this event each year.”

Diabetes researchOver the years, patients like Palmer have contributed to great strides in diabetes care and education as partners in their care and participants in research. The 67-year-old has taken part in several studies and now qualifies for the LONGTIME study just getting underway in London.

“Without research, we would still be using glass vials (of insulin), urine sticks to monitor blood sugar and boiling needles,” he says. “I participate because I know it makes a difference to the next generation.”

About nine million Canadians are living with prediabetes or diabetes, considered the epidemic of the 21st century. At St. Joseph’s, research to improve care and outcomes is paramount. Through Lawson Health Research Institute, two landmarks trials have been launched and are now accepting patients: the LONGTIME study and the REMOVAL study.

  • LONGTIME study: This study will examine patients who have had type 1diabetes for 50 years or more focusing on complications in the large and small blood vessels.  Patients with long term diabetes are prone to blood vessel disease caused by fat and blood clots building up on the vessel walls. This can lead to serious complications in the heart, brain, kidney and liver.  As part of the study, researchers, using ultrasound, will measure the amount of the build-up in the arteries to determine the severity of the disease over time. The study is the first to examine a distinctly Canadian population, and to examine the impact on the large blood vessels over time. Researchers hope the results will lead to a greater understanding of the factors impacting survival and longevity in patients with type 1 diabetes.
  • REMOVAL Trial: Officially launched in March, this study is a collaboration between JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), the University of Glasgow, and 17 sites across Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark, and the Netherlands that will collectively enroll 500 patients. Led in Canada by Lawson’s Dr. Irene Hramiak, the study will test whether metformin – a drug commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes – could help prevent or reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications in people age 40 and older with type 1 diabetes. Of the 500 patients, 50 will be enrolled at St. Joseph’s and 50 at The Ottawa Hospital Riverside Campus. Patients are still being sought in London.

    Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death associated with diabetes. While current treatments for diabetes reduce the risk of developing heart disease, risk remains elevated even with the best management of type 1 diabetes. If REMOVAL results are positive, metformin could be introduced as an adjunct therapy with insulin.

The two studies are among many underway at St.  Joseph’s Hospital, home to the Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism. Through Lawson, there are about 30 ongoing diabetes studies in progress involving as many as 350 patients.

Diabetes glucose testing

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