Friday, March 5, 2010

Working with Maine Families to Support Critical Funding for Diabetes Research

Weekly column by Senator Susan Collins

As the founder and co-chair of the Senate Diabetes Caucus, I have learned much about the disease and the difficulties and heartbreak that diabetes causes for so many American families as they await a cure. Diabetes is a life-long condition that affects people of every age, race and nationality. It is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness in adults, and amputations not related to injury.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 85,000 Mainers were diagnosed with diabetes in 2008, up from 34,000 in 1994. The burden of diabetes is particularly heavy for children and young adults with Type 1, or juvenile diabetes. Juvenile diabetes is the second most common chronic disease affecting children, and it is one that they never outgrow. On average, a child with Type 1 diabetes will have to take over 50,000 insulin shots in a lifetime.

I recently met with several Maine children, and their families, to discuss federal efforts to help those who are afflicted with this devastating illness. Among them was Caroline Sweeney of Gray whose seven-year-old son, Aidan, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes just months before his second birthday. Youngsters, like Aidan, whose lives have been forever changed by diabetes, motivate me to continue to devote so much energy to this issue.

It was heart-warming to receive hugs from these children who are so thankful for federal efforts to help find a cure, and we are making progress. Since I founded the Senate Diabetes Caucus in 1997, funding for diabetes research has more than tripled from $319 million to more than a billion dollars last year. That sounds like a lot of money, but consider this-- treating people with diabetes accounts for more than $174 billion of our nation’s annual health care costs. Overall, health care spending for people with diabetes is almost double what it would be if they did not have the disease. If we can find a cure for diabetes, not only do we dramatically improve the lives of children like Aidan and millions of other people, but we also significantly reduce the nation’s overall health care costs. And, as a result of our commitment, we have seen some encouraging breakthroughs in diabetes research, and we are on the threshold of a number of important new discoveries.

This is clearly no time to take our foot off the accelerator. We have two choices, we can sit back and continue to pay the bills and endure the suffering, or we can aggressively pursue a national strategy aimed at curing this terrible disease. That is why I recently joined Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) in introducing bipartisan legislation to renew the Special Diabetes Program which expires next year. We need to act now to renew and increase the funding. This program is credited with helping the medical community achieve major advancements, resulting in tangible improvements in the lives of Americans who are living with diabetes. But if this crucial program is not renewed, federal support for Type 1 diabetes research will be cut by 35 percent.

During our meeting, Caroline Sweeney thanked me for my support of the Special Diabetes Program. “Renewing this program provides hope for Aidan and all those living with Type 1 diabetes,” she said. But it is I who wants to thank families, like the Sweeneys, who are so committed to helping me lead the effort to secure critical funding that, one day, will hopefully lead to a cure.

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