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Aaron Kowalski Part 2, Progression in Diabetes Treatment

In part 2 of this Exclusive Interview, Dr. Aaron Kowalski talks with Diabetes in Control Publisher Steve Freed during the ADA meeting in San Diego, California about the personal impact of diabetes on his own life and defining what a diabetes cure could mean to different people.

Aaron Kowalski, PhD is the Chief Mission Officer and Vice President of Research at the JDRF. He is an internationally recognized expert in the area of diabetes technologies and has been a leader of JDRF’s Artificial Pancreas Research Project, a multimillion dollar initiative that began in 2005 to accelerate the progress toward automated insulin delivery systems..

Transcript of this video segment:

Steve Freed: The technology and drugs have changed so dramatically over such a short period of time. If you look at what we’ve done from 1950 to 1995, 50 years approximately, we had one oral drug for diabetes, we had two insulins, and now there’s just so many choices, which even makes it more difficult for the medical professional to decide what’s best for what individual. But the one thing that I’ve noticed of the people that are here today, that people that are involved with diabetes, are passionate about what they do.

Aaron Kowalski: Yeah, oh yeah.

Steve Freed: I talk to people with new technologies and a lot of people involved with diabetes have diabetes. Usually it’s type 1 diabetes. So I’ll ask you a personal question. You work for JDRF. Do you have diabetes?

Aaron Kowalski: I have had diabetes since 1984 and I have a younger brother who’s had diabetes since 1977. And when we come to scientific sessions like this, I think one of the key things that we want to see is progress. And you’ve talked about progress that has happened over the decades and now we seem to see a tremendous acceleration. I think of my brother when he was diagnosed, we did urine glucose testing. Now you would be hard pressed to convince somebody that CGM wasn’t the standard of care for people with type 1. It’s been a transformational technology. The different drugs that can help people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Ultimately this disease is really hard. I mean that’s a theme in my talk at the sessions, was even with these advanced tools and technologies, we still have a lot of room for improvement. So the progress is amazing. I’m thrilled. My family has been doing it for 40 years but we still need to do more and I’m really proud of the work that JDRF is funding to try to help us drive towards a cure eventually.

Steve Freed: Well, you know over the years, over the many years, okay, when someone says “when are we going to have a cure for type 1 diabetes?” Type 2 is a whole other ball game. And the standard answer “we’ll have a cure in 5 years” and that goes back maybe 50 years, they’ve been saying that you know for a long time and I would love to ask you when are we going to have a cure for diabetes? And obviously you’re not going to say 5 years. What would you say?

Aaron Kowalski: I absolutely won’t say 5 years and I would say I don’t know when we’ll have a cure, but I can guarantee you we’re going to push as hard as we can to be as fast as we can. You know the other interesting thing if you talk to folks with diabetes, and I’m sure you know this, is what does a cure mean? If you asked what the Holy Grail, you walk away from the diabetes, everybody will agree upon that. But JDRF is funding a number of different approaches that would be maybe close such as cell replacement therapy. So we have a number of reports on advances of cell replacement therapy. At the session I spoke at we heard about advances in stem cell therapy which would be implantable and maybe last a couple years in your body. Is that a cure if it has to come out and be topped up every 2 years? Well, if I’m not dealing with diabetes for 2 years at a time, for me that I think would meet the definition. Glucose response of insulins are another really exciting area. My colleague, Dr. Julia Greenstein, will talk about advances in immunotherapies which are going to be what is critical to getting to the end goal. So, the cure, I don’t know because we don’t have all the answers but we’re funding a significant amount of research to try to drive us there as soon as possible.

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