Cover Story

Non-lethal options

Research that doesn't destroy embryos provides hope for diabetics

Issue: "Roe vs. Wade at 29," Jan. 19, 2002

Last summer when fetal stem-cell research was constantly in the news, we were struck by two things: the portrayal of all diabetes sufferers as proponents of the research, and the ignorance of the disease among journalists. Until three years ago we were also ignorant; that's when our daughter, now 6, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (juvenile diabetes). Type 1 diabetes is very different from the more widely known Type 2 diabetes. Children with Type 1 do not outgrow it. It cannot be treated with a changed diet and exercise. There are no choices in treatment. The pancreas simply does not produce any insulin at all; it is a broken internal organ. Normal blood sugar readings for healthy individuals are between 80 and 120 milligrams of sugar per deciliter of blood. When our daughter was diagnosed, she measured over 640. With insulin shots several times a day, our little girl might live to be 100, but a wrong dose can bring her close to death. My wife and I have become her pancreas, trying to balance insulin doses with the carbohydrate intake of a picky eater. We have some hard nights. Here's one: Annaliese goes to bed with a blood sugar reading of 282. High, but she doesn't eat when she sleeps, so the number will most likely go down. We find ourselves awake an hour later. Sleepy eyes get out the test kit and mess with the test strips. We poke her finger with the lancet (ouch! if we've poked ourselves we have to start all over). Annaliese doesn't wake when her finger is poked. The meter says she's dropped to 143. We shake her awake and give her a cup of milk: "Here, drink this." Milk usually carries her through the night. At 4 a.m. we wake up again, wondering what her blood sugar level is now. Get up, get the test kit, get blood. She's at 38! Quick! Get the juice! Trained to respond when a straw is placed in her mouth, she drinks. At 7 a.m. she's at 192. We wish we could know exactly what always to give her so we could relaxedly sleep through the night, but so many variables affect blood sugar levels. Fat and protein slow down absorption of carbs. Exercise or high altitude can make her low. A slight cold or a previous low can make her high. You'd think we would be among the people associated with this disease who are desperately looking for someone else to die so they or their family members can live. The brilliance of God's handiwork in creating a pancreas is evident to us, and we know how great it would be for our daughter's to work. But we believe we will know God's cure when it presents itself. We stopped supporting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation when we realized its main push has been for human embryo dicing. There are other ways to find a cure. Researchers have already cured mice of Type 1 diabetes without using fetal stem cells. Why hasn't this made news headlines? According to FOCUS, the Web newsletter of Harvard Medical School, researchers "Denise Faustman, Shinishiro Ryu, Shohta Kodama, and their colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital have not only regenerated islets [the insulin producers of the pancreas], they have rid the mice of the immune cells that attack the pancreas in the first place." The newsletter called the research "an experiment once thought impossible." Impossible? Not with God. The researchers did not find the cure where they thought they would. They thought that once they had killed off the mutinous immune cells, the islets they had transplanted into the kidneys would be free to control blood sugars. Blood sugar levels did indeed drop to normal, but when they examined the kidneys, the transplanted islets had not survived. God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts. "We pulled out the pancreas, which was the control organ," Dr. Faustman said. "And we found these pancreases with these beautiful islets." We sympathize with the families, spotlighted by the press, that see use of stem cells from human embryos as their only hope. We understand their days and their nights. How we could cope without the sweet Spirit of the Lord, we don't know. Perhaps we would be desperately searching for a cure in the wrong places.

-Those interested in learning more about the research at Harvard can find information at http://www.mgh.harvard.edu/depts/diabetes/diabetes_homepage.htm

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