Karen Garloch

Charlotte visit highlights advances in juvenile diabetes research

Derek Rapp’s family, from left: son Turner, wife Emily, daughter Helen, Derek, son William.
Derek Rapp’s family, from left: son Turner, wife Emily, daughter Helen, Derek, son William. JDRF INTERNATIONAL

Derek Rapp became interested in juvenile diabetes out of personal experience. His 21-year-old son, Turner, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 10, and his younger son, William, has been found to have risk factors for developing the disease.

Now William is taking part in a clinical trial that aims to show whether taking insulin daily in pill form might prevent the development of diabetes.

Last month, Rapp, CEO of JDRF International (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), met with parents and supporters in Charlotte, who are planning events this spring. (See www2.jdrf.org.) Rapp was enthusiastic about the future for people with Type 1 diabetes, also known as T1D, juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes.

William, now 17, benefited from research five years ago when he had a blood test that found antibodies which attack the pancreatic islet cells and could eventually stop them from producing insulin that keeps the body’s glucose levels in check.

It was not a big surprise when William tested positive because his brother and five other people in the family have T1D. William was then enrolled in a trial that requires patients to take one pill a day – either insulin or a placebo – to show whether the drug could prevent development of the disease.

The family does not know if William is getting insulin, but if he is, the thought is that his body would get used to the insulin and become less apt to produce more antibodies to his islet cells.

“Prevention is an area that’s very exciting in our field,” Rapp said. “We talk about curing the disease, but if a person never gets it in the first place, all the better.”

Rapp, who travels between New York and St. Louis, where his wife and William still live, said more than 50 clinical trials are ongoing, funded by JDRF, that could produce devices or services to help patients and families dealing with T1D.

Among the products being tested:

▪ A thin device – the size and thickness of a business card – that contains hundreds of thousands of islet cells. It can be implanted under the skin in a person’s back, and the islet cells gradually produce and release insulin “to help a person have excellent control without having to take insulin shots.… There’s a lot of excitement about this.”

▪ An artificial pancreas that provides insulin control without a person having to monitor insulin levels or tell the device what to do. “Already on the market, there’s a product that stops administering insulin when (blood sugar) goes low. … And we’re fairly close to a device that will turn off when a person is predicted to go low, but also administer insulin when a person has high blood sugar.

“Is an artificial pancreas the be-all and end-all? No. But it can sure make living with diabetes a lot easier. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times my wife or I got up during the night to check Turner’s blood sugar.… There are profound implications, not just for the person with the disease but for his or her family, too.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078