50+ Years with T1D: JDRF and the Joslin Medalists

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Chris Stiehl, when he was diagnosed at 10 years old

In 1960, Ben-Hur won a record number of Oscars, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was published, John F. Kennedy was elected president, and Chris Stiehl found out that he had type 1 diabetes (T1D) at age 10. In Chris’s words—harking back to the time—he had “sugar diabetes.”

“No one in my school knew of any other kids with type 1 diabetes in any other San Diego school,” remarks Chris, who was raised in southern California.

That was a time when insulin, which has kept Chris alive since, was produced from animals and inserted using “glass syringes and massive metal needles,” said Chris. By the 1990s, blood testing had evolved to reading greens and yellows off a urine strip and comparing the color to a vial to find out what your blood-glucose levels were. “I was, of course, red/green color blind,” Chris says.

Chris endured, thanks to his wife, Lorraine, his friends and JDRF. He learned about the Joslin Medalist program from JDRF, who was considering investing in research on the Medalists—people who have lived with T1D for 50+ years. Since its first grant in 2005, JDRF has contributed nearly $5 million toward the Joslin Medalist study.

The study has yielded some fascinating results. The researchers asked Medalists to complete an extensive medical history questionnaire and provide laboratory data from their doctor. More than 300 people responded, and close to 50 percent seem to have escaped serious complications, which occur in almost all people after a 30-year period with T1D. JDRF-funded scientists also found in studying the Medalists that there are two genes that protect from eye disease, RBP3, and kidney disease, PMK2. This could lead to new treatment options for people who have visual loss and/or kidney decline.

On June 21, JDRF, along with the Thomas J. Beatson Foundation, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), will host a workshop, “International Summit on the Study of T1D of Very Long Duration,” that will bring together Medalist researchers from across the world. The goal, approximately 15 years from the start of the research, is to share and harmonize study protocols and formalize a collaborative group of study teams with regular future interaction. We are excited to share the results of the Medalist studies in the future!

The Medalist meeting comes right before the American Diabetes Association (ADA) 78th Scientific Sessions, held from June 22 to 26, 2018, in Orlando, Florida. Stay tuned on our blog and social media channels (Facebook at @myJDRF, Twitter at @JDRF and @JDRFResearch and LinkedIn) and follow the hashtag #JDRFxADA for more updates.