Diabetes and the NIH

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • Continued from part 1: How NIH Came To Be


    As NIH began to expand its grants program, they realized they needed more category institutes to appropriately focus their efforts, and this meant making a case to congress for more funding. Between 1946 and 1949, voluntary health organizations made the case for additional research on mental illness, dental diseases and heart disease. By 1948, the National Institute of Health was renamed as the National Institutes of Health, and added two new institutes: the National Microbiological Institute (NMI) and the Experimental Biology and Medicine Institute (EMBI). But, consensus showed that naming the institutes after diseases had a better chance of getting congressional funding. So, in 1950, EMBI became the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases. In 1955, NMI became National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. By 1988, there were 27 institutes and centers at the NIH.

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    While researching this post, it was a surprise that diabetes wasn’t one of the first institutes established. In fact, it was very surprising to see that JDRF was formed before NIDDK!


    Often, in the diabetes blogsphere, people believe that we should be getting close to a cure for diabetes. The perception is that diabetes has been around since before biblical times and insulin was developed in 1928, so there are vast amounts of research to decode diabetes. But, the problem was that clinical data had no central location, nor was there enough financial support to harness the information and maximize efforts. 


    It was not until 1975 that the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases came into existence. While NCI, National Cancer Institute, was a shoe in, diabetes was not. It took congress a lot longer to embrace the idea that diabetes needed specific space within NIH. In 1973, NIH created the first Diabetes-Endocrinology Research Center, but it would take another two years to push for expansion. In 1975, investigators for the National Commission on Diabetes spent nine months collecting information on the epidemiology and nature of diabetes mellitus and held public hearings across the country. In November 1975, the National Commission on Diabetes delivered its report to congress, entitled the Long-Range Plan to Combat Diabetes. Their findings supported the need for clinical research and training centers to help accelerate diabetes health care, education and suggested a national diabetes advisory board.


    The National Commission on Diabetes was established in 1974 by Senator Richard Schweiker, who was the ranking member of the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. Senator Schweiker was a pioneer in increasing government spending on diabetes research, an effort shared with Lee Ducat, founder of JDRF. One of the great ironies of his life is that Senator Schweiker, without any personal connection, embraced this battle against diabetes on his own in the 1970s. His work to better our lives proved to be invaluable to his own family, as his grand daughter Ellie was diagnosed with type I in 2003.  


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    NIDDK’s mission is to conduct and support medical research on diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases, nutritional disorders, obesity; and kidney, urologic and hematologic diseases to improve people’s health and quality of life in the United States.


    NIDDK is not about general diabetes care, though. NIH is appropriate for those patients who have complicated problems and complicated needs. When normal routines have not yielded positive results, then the resources at NIDDK might be more helpful. The doctors throughout NIH are a bit like detectives looking at the disease variables in a different light. They are running clinical trials on new therapies to better help us, while creating lifelines for some families for whom diabetes would have decimated.


    Will we ever crack the code on what causes diabetes?  I don’t know, but I do know that I’m grateful for all the unraveled mysteries that help us live healthier and longer lives.


Published On: July 16, 2014