In Philly, diabetes conference to focus on causes, treatment, complications

    Researchers from across the world are headed to Philadelphia this week for the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions, a chance to share new science in the field of diabetes care.

    It’s a conference of health professionals, basic scientists and other experts talking about the nitty-gritty of diabetes. However, Dr. Robert Ratner, the chief scientific and medical officer with the American Diabetes Association, says the rest of us should care too.

    “Over one-third of the Medicare budget in the United States is spent in the care of individuals with diabetes,” Ratner said. “I think it behooves all of us to understand what the causes are, how we might be able to prevent the disease, and how we need to treat it in order to minimize complications.”

    The conference includes talks on cancer risk, the molecular mechanisms of exercise and weight loss as well as the care of some special populations of people with diabetes, such as pregnant women.

    Obstetrician David A. Sacks, with Southern California Kaiser, is leading a discussion on the ways physicians classify women with gestational diabetes. He wants colleagues to move away from a system that’s still used in science journals, but not well defined or universally understood.

    “For example, if we were to say that the patient has Class A2 diabetes, that doesn’t specify what her treatment is. My suspicion is that most people use it in the context of Class A1 means we are caring for her with diet alone, Class A2 means we are giving her some medication,” Sacks said.

    Sacks said universal definitions may help researchers better document the growing number of women who discover they have diabetes during pregnancy.

    Maternal and fetal medical specialist Dr. Donald Coustan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brown Medical School, is another presenter this week. He says says the increase in gestational diabetes is linked to the overall U.S. diabetes epidemic.

    “About a third, over a third, of adult Americans over the age of 20 have either diabetes or pre-diabetes, a condition, in which they are likely to develop diabetes,” Coustan said.

    “If I want to know whether diabetes is increasing, everyone has to be using the same definition in order to count heads,” said Coustan. “Wouldn’t it matter to you that everyone be speaking the same language and not have a Tower of Babel?”

    The percentage of women with gestational diabetes is in the range of 7 to 10 percent today, Coustan said. All of Coustan’s patients are women with diabetes in pregnancy, and he says that many are not aware that the diagnosis increases the risk for diabetes later in life.

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