On Monday of this week, I had the privilege to speak to Harvard University Professor Douglas Melton. Not only is he Xander Professor at Harvard, he is also an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Co-Director of Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute and recently appointed President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. So, a highly respected man with a solid resume.
It was not long after Anna’s diagnosis that I came across Professor Melton’s name and how he and his lab team at Harvard discovered how to turn a neutral skin cell into a juvenile insulin producing beta cell. I found this discovery to be incredible and felt hopeful of a ‘cure’. It was a step in the right direction and I wanted to share this information with others.
It wasn’t until after I spoke with Professor Melton this week that I learned not only about his research but also his story which is just as important. You see, despite no family history of Type 1 Diabetes, both Professor Melton’s children were diagnosed with T1D. I guess, much the same as many of us, this was a catalyst for change and so began his quest to eliminate the need for blood sugar testing and insulin pumps. He has spent the last 15 years working on Type 1 stem cell research.
Sitting in his Harvard office felt surreal. I found it astonishing that something so traumatic as my daughters’ Type 1 diagnosis could result in bringing two people from different backgrounds together from across the globe. Life can take you around some funny turns but in the end, it can lead you in just the right direction.
Despite having never met Professor Melton before, there was common ground and we could relate on how it felt when our children were diagnosed, how we feel about it now post diagnosis and how we ask our children if they are high or low based on behaviour. Interesting and probably not surprisingly, our children don’t like being asked about this.
I left Harvard feeling happy and comforted in the fact that there are so many people working in the background trying to find solutions and a cure for Type 1 Diabetes. Not just at Harvard but many other University’s, Hospitals and Labs around the world.
I also felt comforted in the fact that there are others affected by Type 1 in the same ways that I am. I have my moments as a parent when I feel like no one understands and trying to explain the management of Type 1 in a few sentences is near impossible. Dealing with the daily management can be difficult and as Professor Melton told me, we need to find the balance.
The balance between trying to keep Type 1 in check while still living a full and active life. Watching the numbers can become a full time job and can drive you crazy. He gave me an example of a few numbers; in a person without Type 1, there are around 10,000 islets and each contains 100,000 beta cells. That makes around 1 billion cells that measure blood glucose and secrete insulin. The beta cells check glucose levels every millisecond which equates to 1,000 times per second. A CGM in comparison checks blood glucose once every 5 mins.
Hearing this made me realise that it is no wonder blood sugars have such fluctuations. We are trying to manually replicate a finely tuned machine that performs tasks in milliseconds. I’m not even sure someone with superhuman ability could perform this task every day, over and over again.
So, the point of this? To highlight that we can only do our best in managing Type 1 Diabetes. There will be days when we feel like we have nailed it and all went to plan. Then, there will be days where we feel like nothing went right and levels were not as we hoped. It is all part and parcel of the condition.
Let’s try to find a balance. Celebrate those moments that go well and in those moments when things aren’t so great, take a breath, recalibrate and remember tomorrow is a new day.