This past weekend was my third time attending the JDRF Today and Tomorrow Conference up in Southeast Michigan.
That may sound like a remote diabetes conference area to some, but I was raised in that Metro Detroit region before moving to Indiana a decade ago, so that’s the JDRF chapter that I grew up knowing and loving. Their Today and Tomorrow conference has been going on for seven years now, and it’s said to be the largest and longest-running of its kind by any of the JDRF’s regional chapters around the country.
About 1,300 people turned out this year, and I was excited to see the all-star lineup that included celebrity PWDs like Olympic skier Kris Freeman, former Miss America 1999 (and newly-minted doctor!) Nicole Johnson, and pro cyclist Joe Eldridge. Along with well-known DOC peeps like Kerri Sparling, who led a session on social media connections and diabetes.
A big theme for this year was diabetes superheroes, fueled by the lineup of celeb PWD speakers, and it was fun to see many of the little kids running around with bright green capes sponsored by Dexcom. Their reps were even wearing their own superhero shirts at their exhibit table.
Like many of these conferences, it’s tough to choose where to be, with so many great sessions happening at the same time. In fact, there were 12 sessions on tap between the morning keynotes and lunch alone! Check out the full agenda here, for those interested.
I did my best to take it all in and fill my reporter’s notebook, so without further ado, here are some highlights that caught my eye:
(You can also check out the #JDRFConf hashtag on Twitter to review some of the live-tweeting that went on.)
From Our Notebook
Smart Insulin: One of the most newsy bits we heard more about this weekend was last week’s news that Merck was finally moving forward on smart insulin! Yes, finally, about four years after the Pharma giant acquired SmartCells in late 2010, which was working on this glucose-responsive insulin. During a very long investor briefing on May 6, a Merck exec revealed that the company is finally moving its investigational smart insulin (dubbed L-490 in the research so far) forward into Phase I human trials. At the JDRF conference on Saturday during the research update session, Dr. Michael Wood of the University of Michigan briefed us on this “late-breaking news” that he’d just gotten an email about the evening before.
An exec showed this slide on smart insulin during that briefing:
He didn’t talk timing or offer much more, so we reached out to Merck’s media relations team who told us they plan for late 2014 on the human clinical trials to start. But they also said it’s “premature to comment on any additional details at this point.” Darn.
Exciting news, though surely we are still years away from seeing anything materialize on the market from these early trials.
Artificial Pancreas : Dr. Mark DeBoer from the University of Virginia was one of the morning keynote speakers, talking very generally about UVA’s research on the Artificial Pancreas system using the Dexcom G4 and Tandem t:slim insulin pump. Really, it was an overview on the two AP types — “control to range,” in which algorithms steer toward a preset glucose range, and “zone model predictive control” that uses a more personalized approach based on patient data. He also discussed how current CGM sensor accuracy is the biggest challenge to address short of regulatory concerns. Speaking of Artificial Pancreas research, it was interesting to hear a Friday night reception presentation by Dexcom that included a slide showing off 22 of the AP consortium centers worldwide. And Dexcom is the CGM being used in 19 of those – wow, that’s impressive!
Endo of the Ages: Remember Dr. Fred Whitehouse, the “amazing endo of the ages” in Detroit who actually trained under the Dr. Eliot Joslin and turns out was the adult endo for Elizabeth Hughes Gossett, the first person to ever get insulin? We interviewed Dr. Whitehouse a few years ago and now, even at 88, he’s still practicing a few days a week at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit (and is still my mom’s endo!). But I saw him at the JDRF Conference and he told me the plan is to retire July 31. This guy is amazing and deserves a standing ovation from anyone and everyone in this D-Community, IMHO. Thanks for everything you’ve done and continue doing for us, Dr. Whitehouse!
D-Kids & A1C: The other morning keynote was Dr. Lori Laffel (say it: La-Fell) who’s head of the Joslin Clinic’s pediatric section in Boston, MA, and has quadrupled this division’s size and influence during her tenure. She’s also being honored at the Joslin Gala this weekend, along with another Joslin researcher and friend of ours, Dr. Howard Wolpert. Laffel’s keynote was pretty standard fare on pediatric D, but you could see that it was very informative for those attending — many hands shot up when she asked who was diagnosed within the past six months, and so many families looked like they were clinging to any info that might help them at this critical stage of newly-diagnosed D.
My heart ached a number of times, especially when Laffel cited the recent JDRF SEARCH study findings about how type 1 rose in youth rose 23% between 2001-2009, hitting 1 in 500 kids in the U.S. She did point out the interesting tidbit that just one additional blood sugar check each day could drop an A1C by a half percentage point — so that’s motivation for ya! She also told us to “stay tuned” for new A1C guidelines that will be released soon at the upcoming American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions scheduled for June in San Francisco.
Social Media & the DOC: Also, it was very encouraging to hear Dr. Laffel encourage social media use as part of the bigger prescription for diabetes management and connectivity, because that peer-to-peer support is so crucial. Bravo, Doc, we’ve been waiting for more in the medical community to say this for a long time, and hopefully your backing of this idea will carry some weight with your colleagues!
Our friend and fellow DOCer Kerri Sparling teamed up with local pediatrician and health-tech enthusiast Joyce Lee to give a social media presentation, focusing on the parenting side. They included a great Twitter and D-blog primer and a handful of shout-outs that included #DSMA. It was refreshing how Kerri let the audience dictate the conversation, and one of the themes that emerged was the risk and concerns about adults with diabetes being able to conceive or wanting to have children. That’s a big concern for me at the moment, and it was an emotional conversation that touched on the risk of diabetes being 4% for the kids of T1 moms and 10% for dads. Of course, as Kerri said: It’s only one of many factors in planning for parenthood.
Celebrity PWDs: Of course, seeing Kris Freeman a few months after his time in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, was cool. He gave a lunchtime talk with the theme “No Boundaries,” sharing his story about skiing with D, reaching the Olympics, and visiting D-camps each summer. After lunch, Nicole Johnson gave a very inspirational speech along the same lines — of being told she wouldn’t be able to reach her dreams, but proving those naysayers wrong. It was awesome to see her young daughter there beside her on stage, holding up Nicole’s Miss America 99 crown as proof that we PWDs can accomplish anything despite diabetes.
A note that hit home for me especially was when Nicole talked about her dream early on of becoming a journalist but being told she couldn’t, because she wouldn’t be able to handle the travel and rigors of the job. I had the same fears growing up, worrying that type 1 would prevent me from ever being able to work at a newspaper and be out in the field covering the news. But like so many of us, I pushed ahead anyway!
Kris and Nicole both gave a great interview that morning on a local news channel about the conference and what their inspirational messages are all about. Worth a watch, if you have 4 minutes to spare:
Overall, I have to say how impressed I am to see this kind of lineup at a regional JDRF Conference. I was curious about how much of the planning here is done by the local chapter versus JDRF National, and here’s what JDRF’s Southeast Michigan senior outreach coordinator and D-Mom Denise Pentescu told us:
We have an incredible planning committee that works on this, suggesting speakers and topics. We always have very strong co-chairs, they in turn reach out and invite the keynote speakers. I work on the local level to obtain speakers and session chairs for the workshop sessions — and with my affiliation with AADE, AACE, and DPAC I’m able to utilize their membership base. I know most of the exhibitors personally — so that part is easy! But it does take a lot of people to make this event happen! AND of course Wayne County Community College District, Western Campus is fabulous. The president (Michael Dotson) and his young daughter both have T1D, so that family has been gracious hosts for JDRF! We do have help from our JDRF National office, in fact this year I worked with them quite a bit.
Nice to see that sort of collaboration. And organizers tell me that there’s talk about adding to the agenda next year… which to me is a mixed bag, because it’s great to see more issues covered but it also means little when so many of us (even those attending) can’t make it to so many of these sessions. I again implored the organizers to PLEASE consider taking the effort to videotape these sessions, so we can all see and share them later.
Word is that the keynote talks and a few of this year’s sessions will be posted online soon.
We’ve pointed out before that more JDRF chapters seem to be embracing these kind of conferences all across the U.S., and we have a smaller one called Type One Nation starting up here in the Indy area late this month. I’ll be at that one, too, and can’t wait to see what’s in store for more PWDs and D-Families who are finally getting exposure to these excellent events.