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Together we can fund a cure

By: Kajal Dhaneshwari

I remember many incidents from my childhood, which I spent with my maa and baba (grandparents).

Even though I loved them both very dearly, my baba and I were partners in crime.

In the afternoon when everyone at home napped, baba would tiptoe in the kitchen to look for sweets in hopes of not get caught.

However, 99 per cent of the time I would catch him looking through the fridge and the containers in the pantry to find anything sweet to eat.

That used to be my favourite part of returning home from school in the afternoon. It was an adventure replaying several times a week on loop.

He would make countless excuses to make me believe that he is in the kitchen just for water. When I wouldn’t stop laughing in disbelief, baba would ask me to be a team player.

He would emotionally talk me into helping him look for dessert. I would promise to not tell maa as well. But did I always go back on my word? You bet!

Whenever maa would ask if baba was in the kitchen or ate sweets, I used to be the first one to tattletale. As a child, I found it amusing.

Then, maa would scold baba and I felt like a responsible grandchild. First, by ensuring baba’s cravings were satisfied. Second, by making sure I inform maa about it to keep baba’s health in check.

This photo was taken on my seventh birthday. Here I am feeding baba cake, while has a plate full of sweets and snacks in his hand. Whereas, maa is not so happy about it (judging by her facial expressions).

I remember asking maa why baba was restricted from eating sweets. And maa would say “baba has diabetes.”

Not just baba, I had a sweet tooth as well. One of the childhood shenanigans my family teases me for is running away with a hand full of stolen laddoos (a kind of Indian sweets) from my grandparents’ house to my parents’.

I grew up hearing, “control your sweet tooth or you will get diabetes.” Maa would scold baba saying, “you already have diabetes, stop eating sweets behind my back.”

Baba was an army veteran and took care of his body, maintained a healthy diet and a disciplined lifestyle to be of service to the community. However, there was more to the story than I knew.

He took many medicines. Paying regular visits to the doctors was also a common part of his lifestyle.

How did I learn about diabetes?

I did not know what diabetes was until I started working at the Alberta Diabetes Foundation (ADF) as a communication student in the summer of 2019.

ADF is a not-for-profit organization that funds innovative research to prevent and treat all forms of diabetes. It works hand-in-hand with other researchers across Alberta. ADF raises funds by hosting annual events like the Classic Car for a Cure lottery, the Hummingbird Gala, Halloween Howl, and more. The funds stay in Alberta and are donated when necessary to cure-based diabetes research.

Now, what is diabetes? 

Diabetes occurs when your body stops to make or fail to use the insulin that the body is producing.

What is insulin? 

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. Its role is to regulate the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Your body also requires glucose to function as it provides energy.

What are the types of diabetes? 

There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational.

As shocking as it may sound, I am still unaware of what type of diabetes baba had. It wasn’t talked about in the house. Though my dad says baba had it under control due to his precautionary lifestyle. Therefore, I assume he may have type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Insulin-dependent
  • The body attacks its pancreas and is unable to produce insulin
  • The body is unable to regulate blood sugar
  • An estimated 10 per cent of Canadians living with diabetes have Type 1
  • Commonly developed in childhood or adolescence
Type 2 diabetes
  • The body is unable to use the insulin it produces or is producing an insufficient amount
  • An estimated 90 percent of Canadians living with diabetes have type 2
  • Commonly developed in adulthood
  • Manageable with healthy eating and regular exercise
Gestational diabetes
  • Diabetes in pregnancy
  • An estimated 20 per cent of Canadian pregnant women develop it
  • Can often go undetected
  • Occurs when the body can’t produce enough insulin to adapt to the pregnancy changes, such as changing hormone levels
  • Result of high blood sugar
  • Increases the mother and the baby’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes

To learn about diabetes symptoms and its complication, click here.

One in three Canadians is living with diabetes.

Melissa L.A. Bishop, 38, is a MacEwan student who has been living with Type 1 diabetes since she was ten years old. Her lifestyle changed drastically, once diagnosed.

“It hurt my social relationships,” says Bishop.

She shares, “My mum was always afraid of letting me do things because my sugar and diet [was hard to control].” Instead, Bishop ended up reading countless books.

For another MacEwan student diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Skye Henitiuk experienced many emotional and physical challenges. At 12, she lost a lot of weight despite being skinny.

“I vaguely remember being super lethargic and unhappy even during Christmas time,” shares Henitiuk.

Henitiuk’s lifestyle didn’t change much other than needles and carb counting her meals. Though she adds that at that age, it was a “hard adjustment to be on such a strict diet.”

Fortunately, for Bishop, living in Canada means using the pharmaceutical benefits to help pay for her supplies even when she wasn’t working.

“I acknowledge my privilege in that way. Never having to pay for diabetes is a sincere blessing.”

Henitiuk is on the Alberta Pump Program and receives her insulin pump free of charge.

“Financially, [managing diabetes] hasn’t affected me until the last couple of years,” shares Henitiuk.

Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Transplant Surgery and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. James Shapiro adds, globally, “1.3 trillion dollars are spent managing diabetes and its complications every year; it’s an unsustainable disease.” 

Previous breakthroughs in the world of diabetes

In 1921, a team of researchers from Toronto put Canada on the world map by discovering insulin.

In 2000, the standard care of islet-cell transplantation known as the Edmonton Protocol was established.

Dr. Shapiro shares, almost 20 years ago, “we began the Edmonton protocol to treat patients from cells taken from the organ donors and we have been continuing that process ever since. But patients have to take antirejection drugs; they have side effects; they have risks associated with them.”

In 2012, Bishop went to meet Dr. Faustman to talk about her research using the BCG vaccine to cure type 1 diabetes. On her way, Bishop sat beside the first person to ever receive the Edmonton Protocol.

“I took it as a promising sign of things to come,” shares Bishop.

Almost a cure

Now, a team of University of Alberta researchers led by Dr. James Shapiro are ready to contribute to the world of diabetes yet again.

They believe they are well on their way to find a cure for diabetes.

Dr. Shapiro explains the stem cell transplantation research that he is working on with his team currently.

Dr. Shapiro says, “I don’t have a personal link to diabetes, but I obviously have patients who do.” He has been working on diabetes research for almost 35 years now. “Since [he] was a medical student in England.” 

Bishop says, “using a patient’s own blood and stem cells to recreate the conditions for the body to create its own insulin again is probably the most promising research I have encountered.”

Let’s hear about some of the challenges that have been limiting Dr. Shapiro’s research.

“The mandatory established granting mechanisms don’t necessarily cover this kind of innovative work, so we turn to philanthropic support,” explains Dr. Shapiro. 

During the interview, Bishop shared that she has recently donated to Dr. Shapiro’s research and signed up to be the “human guinea pig.” 

While Bishop feels hopeful that the cure for diabetes may be on its way, Henitiuk shares that “it’s hard to get my hopes up.”

Though Henitiuk seems faithful in the ongoing research.

The reason being, “a married-in family member of mine, Kerry Elliot was actually the patient in Edmonton to get the stem cell transplant in 2015 with Shapiro’s team!” 

Diabetes is the most expensive disease to manage globally. Hence, the question is would the treatment Dr. Shapiro is working on will be available at an affordable price to patients?

Together, we can fund a cure for diabetes. This giving Tuesday, donate to $22 to Dr. Shapiro’s cure-based diabetes research by clicking here.

A message from Dr. Shapiro to the people suffering with diabetes.  
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