Well, I just attended the Melbourne Diabetes Expo. It was a strange combination of rewarding and mildly disappointing. But this wasn’t my first time so let me rewind two years.
I went to the same Expo last time it ran in 2017. As we all know, “diabetes” means “Type 2 diabetes unless otherwise specified.” Naturally, the expo made it clear it was for both types of diabetes. If you try to cater to both, you won’t disappoint the Type 2s, but it’s hard to get it right for Type 1s.
I hadn’t been to a diabetes expo before, but I had a good idea of what to expect. Talks aimed at Average Joes with diabetes. Stands by the usual pharma and biotech companies, showing off their latest products, and other stands promoting diabetic socks, pump cases, and what not. Nothing I hadn’t already found through thorough research on the internet.
But some part of me said, “Don’t be cynical, take a positive attitude. You often learn more than you expect at things like this.” So I went.
To be honest, it was pretty much what I expected. Lots of absolute basics, a large Type 2 focus, sitting through hours of Baby’s First Diabetes, but with the occasional thing that was new, insightful, or rather useful.
Don’t get me wrong about the stands. It was good to actually see and feel insulin pumps and pens and meters in real life. There were some unexpected stands too, like honey pops (useful), type 2 cookbooks (lame), and hearing and eye checks.
Despite the lameness I had to sift through, I felt it was useful. I was disappointed that there weren’t more advanced talks relevant to people with type 1, although I guess it’s to be expected.
But I tried to strike up conversations with other type 1 folks. A lot of them were similarly disappointed, but we clicked, exchanged stories, talked about what we had hoped to see. These weren’t the sorts of cynical people who pollute—er, that is, populate—online Facebook groups. I realised that one of the good thing about events like these was that it was idealists who would be likely to turn up and connect.
Oh, one more thing. I was at a “latest science in diabetes” talk where an audience member asked about the recent developments in inhaled insulin. The presenter said something along the lines of “well yes but I think we’re likely to see better results from the real science.”
I had to. I just had to grab the mic and say that actually I was using inhaled insulin and if anyone wanted to talk to me after the session I’d be happy to. The presenter was furious. A number of people came to talk to me later and were very interested and supportive.
In the end I was glad I went.
Two years later
So it’s 2019 now. Not much has changed. I went to the talk about low-carb eating hoping to get some gems on how to bolus, some recipe ideas, and how to manage eating out. Unfortunately all I got was a definition of the low carb diet, a comparison with the “recommended” food pyramid diet, and some studies showing that there was not much to show. Some of that stuff was interesting, I suppose.
Everything just has that tone of “mildly disappointing but kind of worthwhile.”
Except the talk about research. Now that was interesting. I had always thought that SGLT2 inhibitors must have some side effects. Wouldn’t they strain the kidneys? Apparently not. The research seems to show they are bloody good for you. Less cardiovascular problems, less kidney problems! In the case of certain kidney patients, there was a 40% reduction in the chance of kidney failure. What. The. Hell.
And there were a few other studies with extremely promising results. One of them (it sounded like “twinulin” but Google says that isn’t a thing) had crazy results for type 1 and type 2 patients. There had also been research into an actual oral insulin that could be absorbed by the gut.
I walked out feeling impressed and feeling there was a significant chance that we were on the cusp of a leap forward in diabetes treatment. However, I felt threatened that the years of blood, sweat and tears I had put into building my diabetes toolbox would be all for nothing if I tried out these new drugs. (Of course, that is a silly mentality. Really I should look forward to difficult, complicated things being thrown away.)
Actually there was also a talk about social media, which was mostly Social Media 101 (as I expected) but there were also a few personal stories that were touching and eye-opening.
OK, well maybe I’m being kind of unfair and the 2019 one was rather better.
The greatest difference between 2019 and 2017 was that “the establishment” was starting to acknowledge matters that people were taking into their own hands. Low-carb diets were acknowledged. DIY artificial pancreas tech was being acknowledged. Afrezza was being acknowledged. BionicWookie was there, as well as many other loopers.
I was better at chatting with people at the stands. I was much less um, stuck-up, than last time. I actually purchased a few things. 🙂
During the diabetes tech panel, someone happened to ask what the new inhaled insulin device looked like. I got all excited (and nervous) and it flew from my hands onto the floor. Way to go, Aleks. Anyway, I held it up and said “it looks like this!”
Then Renza (who was on the panel and has an awesome blog) said “I knew there’d be one in the audience.” (Supportively.)
One of the staff tried to get me over to the mic, but I was resistant. What would I say? I’m not good at off-the-cuff. Eventually I thought of something and went up. The gist of it was, “I’ve tried everything. The most important thing to learn is to know when something isn’t working, and then try something else.” Seemed to be well received.
After the talk I got a chance to talk to Renza. I feel a bit... undeserving—I don’t feel like I’m enough of a big deal for such respected, busy people (not to mention internet-famous) to have time to talk to me. But there you go.
All in all, I was quite happy I went. There are many things I’d like the organisers to improve next time, but I appreciate that it isn’t easy.