Academic Research May Be Our Best Chance in Finding a Diabetes Cure
When I discuss diabetes with people, I often hear the same myths over and over again.
Most of them don't bother me, but this one does: "The drug companies know how to cure diabetes, but they're hiding the cure because they make so much money from people with diabetes."
What most people don't understand is this: The mission of a drug company is to develop drugs to treat diseases and common aches and pains, not to root out the underlying causes of diseases.
Furthermore, drug companies are private entities, and they are required by their stockholders to show profits. So it's not surprising that they try to make as much money as they can from the drugs they develop. And they won't put any money at all into research on drugs they can't patent.
No one would fault a computer person who tried to make money developing and selling computers for as much as the market would bear. Drugs are different in that the results of drug company research and production can save lives and they can also kill people. So we need more controls on drug companies than we need on Microsoft.
But until we decide that drug development and production be limited to governmental entities, we can't expect drug company executives to take huge pay cuts or new brand-name drugs to be cheap. And we can't expect them to cure diabetes.
Does that mean the situation is hopeless?
Not at all.
There's another type of research that some people ignore. That is academic research.
The mission of academic research is to increase our knowledge of our world, and that includes understanding the physiology of healthy people and what goes wrong when people develop diseases. It also includes figuring out how to cure the diseases by both drug and nondrug methods.
The results of academic research are often not immediately practical, and it's easy to make fun of some of the topics people choose to study.
But in the long run, it's this basic academic research that will lead to new understanding of diabetes and how to cure it.
For example, sophisticated gene analysis carried out at academic centers has recently supported the theory that type 2 diabetes is caused more by defective beta cells than by insulin resistance, although both are involved. Knowing that can affect how we treat people with type 2. And in the long run this may have a greater effect than developing yet-another drug that will simply treat the symptom of diabetes -- high blood glucose -- rather than treating the cause.
Unfortunately, support for basic research has fallen off, and many people who get PhDs and are eager to get into research can't find jobs and are forced to take jobs in other areas. Maybe one of them would have been the person who could have solved the mystery of what causes diabetes, both type 1 and type 2. We'll never know, because she's selling insurance in Iowa.
If you agree that basic research is what will lead to a cure, write to your congress-people and urge them to give more money to basic research. Money is tight today, and Congress probably won't increase basic research funding significantly right now. So keep it up.
When the economy recovers, keep writing. Keep demanding. We want good research. We want a cure.