Giving Thanks for Smart People at the Edges
One of my job as a member of the Diabetes Health staff is to manage the comments section on our website. Sometimes the comments get heated, and when they do certain patterns emerge.
One recurring pattern is the division between people with diabetes who remain optimistic about someday enjoying a cure, or at least new technology that makes their disease more easily manageable.
The other group is commenters who assert that there will never be a cure as long as big pharmaceutical companies can delay one for as long as possible so that they can continue enjoying huge profits off a captive market.
It's easy to see where the skeptics are coming from. History is filled with examples of powerful interests that have tried to thwart the introduction of new technologies because it benefited them to continue their dominant position over old ones. Many times those tactics have been undertaken in league with governments, creating an unethical alliance where one corrupt hand washes the other.
But history has many examples of technologies that seemed to come out of left field and cut the underpinnings of the old order. A current example is the emergence of cool, long-lasting, low energy-using LED light bulbs, which will soon replace the garish, short-lived, mercury-poisoned CFL light bulbs that a supposedly enlightened government forced on us all a few years ago.
Another is craigslist, the brilliant Internet marketplace that has destroyed newspapers' monopoly on classified advertising---the mainstay of their former economic power. With few exceptions, such as the Wall Street Journal, America's great newspapers are way past their heyday and almost in freefall.
In both cases, the dominant players did not see their vanquishers coming. The people who perfected the LED, once considered a quaint 1970s technology, or who came up with craigslist were outliers, folks on the fringe who were mostly unnoticed and unnoted by the powers that be.
In the diabetes industry---and let's be honest, the disease is surrounded by a huge industry---there are also outliers. They are scientists, researchers, and incurable experimenters who don't have a snowball's chance in hell of breaking into the game the big boys play with drugs, meters, and other diabetes paraphernalia.
So they work at the fringes, looking for an approach to managing, even curing, diabetes that nobody else has thought of or has given up on.
One example is the article (#8064, "Another Step Toward Replacing Daily Injections") we posted this last Sunday about university researchers in North Carolina who are experimenting with nanoparticles and ultrasound as a way of delivering insulin. Their approach works by injecting insulin-saturated nanoparticles under the skin every 10 days to create an insulin reservoir. When ultrasound is applied to the spot where the nanoparticles have been injected, it makes the reservoir release insulin into the bloodstream.
This is something nobody was thinking about a few years ago. Back then, nanotechnology--the ability to manufacture incredibly small machines--was at the same point lasers were when they were invented in the early 1960s: What the heck do you use them for?
Now we have one answer. There will be many more.
Is this approach motivated by altruism? No. Certainly the North Carolina university system hopes to make some money off its research. I see nothing wrong with that being one of the researchers' motivations, along with their pure scientific curiosity. Most of us operate on a mix of charitable impulses and self-interest. I'd no more fault the university's hopes of financial gain than I would a master chef who loves to prepare great food but expects to be paid for his time, ingredients, and art.
But the point is that their efforts may well free many of us from the daily chore of injecting insulin. It won't be a cure, but it will lighten a major burden and free our thoughts and time for other matters.
So, I'm thankful for the dreamers, schemers, sober scientists, tinkerers, Crazy Eddies, brilliant researchers, and curiosity freaks out there who are stirring the pot in unimagined ways. I raise a drumstick in their honor.
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