Prevent Defense a Florissant Boy with a Family History of Diabetes Hopes an Experimental Insulin Therapy Will Head off the Disease

By William Allen Post-Dispach Science | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 23, 1995 | Go to article overview

Prevent Defense a Florissant Boy with a Family History of Diabetes Hopes an Experimental Insulin Therapy Will Head off the Disease


William Allen Post-Dispach Science, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


IT WAS HIGH NOON at Barnes Hospital, and Andrew Blunt, 10, had just begun his showdown with diabetes.

At exactly 12 o'clock one day last summer, a nurse pushed a button on a machine and began to pump a small trickle of insulin through a needle stuck in a vein in Andrew's left arm.

"It doesn't really bother me," Andrew said, looking more intent on playing Mega Man V on the Nintendo Game Boy he held up close to his face. He lay propped up in the hospital bed, legs crossed, wearing a Batman T-shirt and green jean shorts.

Andrew could be excused for feeling inconvenienced and irritable about this procedure. He doesn't even have diabetes. But he's taking insulin anyway because his family history suggests that he might well get the disease that kills and disables thousands of Americans each year.

Andrew, who lives in Florissant, is part of a nationwide experiment called the Diabetes Prevention Trial Type 1. The experiment is the first large-scale controlled clinical trial to evaluate whether insulin can delay or prevent the onset of the most severe form of the disease, called Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is the form that requires daily insulin injections.

Andrew's H younger brother, Brandon, 4, has diabetes, so the disease could be right around the corner for Andrew, unless the insulin therapy works.

Andrew wants to head off his own date with diabetes. But this freckled boy with blue-gray eyes also wants to help find a way to keep other at-risk kids from getting the disease.

He's seen how tough it is on Brandon. And he doesn't want his sister, Courtney, 2, to get it.

"I hate shots," Andrew said. "But I like to give people things. This is one way I can help others out."

If the treatment does work for Andrew and many of the 800 other patients nationwide who are needed for the study, insulin therapy could become the first preventive treatment ever developed for people at risk of diabetes. The study is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

Washington University, long a powerhouse of diabetes research, is trying to recruit volunteers for the study (see accompanying box for details). About 300 children have been screened locally so far, but only two were found suitable to begin the therapy. The researchers hope to screen about 700 more volunteers to find the 18 more needed.

***** A Family Confronts Diabetes

The story of Andrew's showdown with diabetes began a year and a half ago, when Brandon, then 2, came down with the disease.

Brandon had a constant hunger and thirst. He lay listlessly on the floor through the day.

"I couldn't get him to move," said the boys' mother, Kristie Blunt. "That was unusual for him. He'd been a typical, active 2-year-old."

Kristie Blunt's best friend had diabetes, so she knew diabetics can lead normal, happy lives. She also knew the classic symptoms, including constant thirst and fatigue.

She remembers the shock of that day - April 9, 1994 - when doctors diagnosed Brandon with diabetes.

"I knew something was wrong, but when it's brought out in the open, it feels like you've been punched in the stomach," she said.

Andrew cried for his brother.

"I wondered if he would die," he said.

About 14 million Americans have diabetes. About 1.4 million of them have the more severe, insulin-dependent form that Brandon has. This type usually occurs in children and adults under age 30. Most diabetics have the form that is treatable with some combination of diet, exercise and oral medication to boost production and use of insulin in the body.

The two forms of diabetes make it the leading cause of blindness and the fourth-leading cause of death by disease in the United States. It's also a major cause of kidney disease and amputation. Health officials estimate that diabetes costs the nation $92 billion a year in health care and lost time from work.

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