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What Are the Most Solvable Problems in Diabetes?

By Emma Ryan

Leading scientists discuss areas of growth ranging from behavior to artificial intelligence at The diaTribe Foundation’s “Solvable Problems” event in Lisbon

The diaTribe Foundation’s fourth annual “Solvable Problems in Diabetes” event brought together international medical leaders to discuss the most promising developments and advances in diabetes treatment. The event was held at the 2017 European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) meeting in Lisbon, Portugal. We hosted 150 doctors, researchers, advocates, and other guests, who heard from an all-star expert panel:

  • Professor Melanie Davies – Professor of Diabetes Medicine, University of Leicester

  • Dr. Daniel Drucker – Senior Scientist, Lunenfeld Tanenbaum Research Insitute, Mt. Sinai Hospital and Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto

  • Professor David Matthews – Professor of Diabetic Medicine, University of Oxford and Emeritus Founding Chairman, Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism 

  • Kelly Close – Founder of The diaTribe Foundation

Panelists called for more focus on behavior and support for people with diabetes. Dr. Drucker advocated for better design to make drugs and devices more convenient and satisfying for users, while Prof. Matthews highlighted technologies like Fitbit as useful tools to promote activity. Prof. Davies also noted that we need to be putting as much effort toward helping people with diabetes develop self-compassion as we are putting into developing drugs and technology.

The experts firmly endorsed more decision-making support for people with diabetes and healthcare providers as a future direction for the field. Professor Davies noted that it needs to be easier for people to access teams of medical professionals that include doctors, nurses, dieticians and psychologists. Connecting this conversation to the research side of things, Dr. Drucker added that scientists need to align more with primary care physicians, who tend to focus on bigger picture issues like the safety and cost burden of new drugs.

Finally, the panelists talked about the role that artificial intelligence might play in the future of diabetes. Dr. Drucker predicted that new algorithms might take over the endocrinologist’s role of managing glucose fluctuations, and Kelly Close chimed in that this could be a major way of making both healthcare providers and people with diabetes feel more successful. Instead of spending the majority of an appointment adjusting dosing, healthcare providers could spend more of their time considering other factors like food, mindset, exercise, and sleep.

Below are some favorite quotable quotes from the evening:

  • On where innovative solutions are likely to emerge: “As a biologist, the engineers have kicked our butts over the last 15 years in type 1 diabetes. That’s where all the advances have come from in type 1 diabetes. Glucose-sensitive beta cells in sustained clinical use are far away. As a biologist, my money over the next 5 years is still on the engineers.” – Dr. Daniel Drucker

  • On where the biggest need in diabetes is: “Giving good information and support right from diagnosis is important. We also need to make drugs and therapies more accessible to patients more quickly and increase the multi-professional team. We need really good dieticians, specialist nurses, and psychologists – not just physicians.” – Professor Melanie Davies

  • On why advances in diabetes technology make a difference: “We as patients want to feel normal; diabetes is a lonely disease. Being able to look at your blood glucose on an iPhone or swipe your arm and not feel stupid – or worried that blood might accidentally shoot into the air, as everyone with diabetes has experienced – has made a big difference for those lucky enough to access CGM. I’m optimistic on what we can see data deliver if we invest more in technology.” – Ms. Kelly Close

  • On career choices: “If I were starting today, I might not go into basic science, but I’d go into behavioral science. That’s where I think we can make a big difference.” – Dr. Daniel Drucker

  • On the ability to transform lives: “We say to patients, ‘you need to be engaged in your health.’ But we also have to be able to say, ‘if you are engaged, we can deliver things that will allow you to transform your lives.’” – Professor David Matthews

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