Diabetes Spectrum
Volume 12 Number 4, 1999, Page 243
Special Report

Conquering Diabetes: A Report From the Diabetes Research Working Group

Stephen H. Smith

The Congressionally established Diabetes Research Working Group (DRWG), for the first time in recent memory, has created a strategic plan for scientific advancement in the quest for improving diabetes care and curing this serious disease. The group made its recommendations in a February 25, 1999, report titled "Conquering Diabetes." That report confirms what we have always known: funding for diabetes research is shockingly deficient relative to the impact of the disease in our society.

In response to repeated pleas for additional funding from American Diabetes Association diabetes advocates, Congress ordered the National Institutes of Health to create the DRWG to identify diabetes-related scientific opportunities and their associated costs. Dr. Ronald Kahn, of the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School, chaired the group, which included 16 members representing the scientific community, plus numerous consulting scientists and staff members of both the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (JDF). The group met throughout 1998.

The DRWG has provided the impetus and justification necessary for significant funding increases for diabetes research now and into the future.

The assembled scientists identified five areas offering extraordinary opportunities for making significant progress toward understanding, more effectively treating, and ultimately preventing and curing diabetes. These include 1) genetics of diabetes, 2) autoimmunity and the beta cell, 3) cell signaling and regulation, 4) obesity, and 5) clinical research and trials. The report also included two additional components necessary to make significant inroads against diabetes, including 1) special needs for special problems, and 2) resources and infrastructure needs. Opportunities for advancement in each category were inventoried in a plan for the future.

Having identified the necessary fields of scientific inquiry, the report also depicted the dismal funding level now and listed the funding amounts necessary to accomplish these scientific objectives over a 5-year strategic plan period. Given the magnitude and economic consequences of diabetes in the United States, the report noted that current diabetes spending amounts to about 3 cents of every NIH dollar, and relative to the entire NIH budget, the proportion devoted to diabetes research has decreased by more than 30% since 1981. This has occurred while the death rate from diabetes has increased by 30%. The disease has reached epidemic proportions (16,000 million people) and has become the sixth leading cause of death. According to the DRWG report, diabetes now costs the nation more than $105 billion annually, and NIH funding represents only about $30 per person affected by the disease per year.

To accomplish the goals outlined by the DRWG, the report recommended progressive increases over the current funding level of $443 million. Based on projected costs, funding for fiscal year 2000 should be $827.3 million, and that figure should increase annually to reach $1.608 billion in 2004.

The DRWG report is now gaining the attention of key lawmakers and members of the diabetes community throughout the country. For the first time in recent memory, ADA and JDF worked together on planning the dissemination of the report. Attending the formal release of the report at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., were House of Representatives Congressional Diabetes Caucus co-chairs George Nethercutt, Jr. (R-Wash.) and Diana Deggette (D-Colo.), members of the DRWG, NIH officials including Director Dr. Harold Varmus, representatives of support groups, and members of the media.

The Congressional Diabetes Caucus has now grown to more than 260 members, all of whom have been briefed about the report findings. The Senate is now organizing its own diabetes caucus.

"Dear Colleague" letters have been circulated by various members of Congress urging support for the funding recommendations included in the DRWG report. These letters have garnered record numbers of signatures.

Miss America 1999 Nicole Johnson has taken center stage on Capitol Hill, along with diabetes advocates calling for full funding and implementation of the recommendations in the report.

Congressman John Porter (R-Ill.), who chairs the key subcommittee that handles NIH funding, granted a special briefing for the report and has since heard from diabetes advocates on numerous other occasions.

Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who chairs the Senate subcommittee with funding jurisdiction, also held hearings on budget allocations for NIH, during which I testified on behalf of the ADA in support of the DRWG.

ADA has made the DRWG report the centerpiece of its advocacy efforts and has mobilized grassroots supporters to churn out letters, make calls, and pay visits to members of Congress in support of its recommendations.

These are just some of the joint efforts underway, and the momentum is growing. To learn more about the DRWG report and how you can help, visit the ADA's advocacy website at www.diabetes.org/advocacy.

Stephen H. Smith is vice chair of the board of the American Diabetes Association and served as chair of the Association's Government Relations Committee from 1997-1999. He is president of Capitol Strategies, Inc., in Irmo, S.C.

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Copyright 1999 American Diabetes Association

Last updated: 12/99
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