Discovering Diabetes – My EPQ (Extended Project Qualification)

Diabetes occurs when the body fails to maintain glucose (sugar) levels in the bloodstream. This is usually controlled by the pancreas, an organ which produces the hormone insulin. Insulin is like a key; it unlocks the door to cells so that sugar consumed can get in the cells and be converted into energy. Most food when consumed is broken down into glucose via digestion in the intestines. It is absorbed into the bloodstream where it can be circulated around the body. This rise in glucose triggers the pancreas to release insulin.

Insulin produced in the pancreas controls glucose levels in the bloodstream
Insulin produced in the pancreas controls glucose levels in the bloodstream

Hence with no insulin, glucose stays in the bloodstream and so cells cannot function properly, thus the body is less active. The four main symptoms of this condition are urinating frequently, feeling thirsty regularly, feeling tired frequently and unexplained weight loss. If the condition is not treated quickly, there is danger of organ failure; seeing any of these symptoms in yourself or someone else, ensures early diagnose with a simple blood test.

These were the symptoms my sister Emily had 3 years ago. After going for a blood test her blood glucose level was shown to be very high, revealing her body was not producing insulin to manage her sugar level. Emily was rushed into hospital, my Mum was unsure of the situation as doctors panicked to control Emily’s condition; it was so serious her life was on hand.

Emily’s life turned into a nightmare overnight. She was only 9 years of age yet had to cope with having an injection before every meal- a dose of insulin, so the sugars she ate were converted to energy. The facts were too hard to take in for the entire family- Emily was going to be on medication for the rest of her life. There was no doubt about it, diabetes has no cure and no amount of money could buy Emily’s normal life back.

After Emily’s diagnosis, I realised the fragility of life. Even with insulin, Emily’s blood sugar levels still fluctuate. A normal person’s sugar level is supposed to be between 6 and 8. However Emily’s glucose level can become too high if she eats too many sweets, this is called being hyper. If she was to be hyper for a prolonged time her blood can become crystallized which can cause consequences such as organ failure, she could lose her eyesight for example. On the other hand her sugar may become too low if she doesn’t have enough to eat or eat on time, this is called hypo. This can have a very rapid negative effect on Emily; normally she becomes hot, weak and dizzy- like she has no energy to move. A hypo is a serious situation and if it’s not treated immediately she could go into a diabetic coma- in this event it is most likely to affect her internal organs which could result in death.

Living with a diabetic sister has made me extremely passionate about campaigning for research into diabetes to find a cure. That’s why I decided to take my interest further with an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) which includes writing a 6000 word essay, in which I could argue how more government funding needs to go towards research into type 1 diabetes.

Me and Emily
Me and Emily

Research into my project was shocking as I discovered that the NHS is currently spending, £1.056 billion on diabetes, but £0.712 billion is towards treatment on Type 2 diabetes. Emily has type 1 which means that her pancreas failing was due to genetic faults, whereas type 2 is mainly caused by poor diet and lifestyle; 80% of type 2 patients could be prevented from needing treatment in the UK if they had a healthier lifestyle.

Fortunately charities such as JDFR and Diabetes UK have been successfully campaigning for diabetes, and have made progress with government funding increasing. Our family always donate money to these charities as their work is a potential lifeline for Emily. We are lucky to live nearby the Paula Carr Clinic, founded by the Paula Carr Trust, a charity vital in the future of diabetes. The clinic has a range of facilities to help maintain Emily’s health and offers diagnosis of the other consequences that having diabetes may cause such as eye disease.

As for Emily’s future, at the moment she has recently been given an insulin pump, which means she does not have to inject insulin with every meal. IMG_20150308_125306Instead she wears the pump which involves a needle being semi-permanently inserted into her body, and so when she eats she types in the amount of carbohydrates in the food and the correct amount of insulin will be delivered to the body. Of course this is a huge improvement from injections; however she still has to change the pump herself every 2 days which involves injecting the needle and refilling the pump. And other difficulties have arisen; she cannot wear dresses and has to take the pump off when swimming and doing PE at school. Still Emily is one of the lucky 7% of type 1 diabetics in Britain with a pump, whereas in other countries this percentage is much higher; for example in the US 40% of sufferers has a pump.

To conclude for now the government funding towards type 1 diabetes definitely needs to be increased to ensure that a greater number of sufferers can have a good quality of life. Ultimately, Emily would not be alive if it was not for the technology with have today keeping her well. For that the whole family is thankful, however, her life will always be a struggle and frustrating until a cure is found.

I’ll keep you up-to-date with Emily’s progress, and any discoveries with diabetes research. However, if you want to find out more about the condition go to: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Diabetes-type1/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Or, if you want to find out about the work of charities and how you can help accelerate research visit the JDRF website: http://www.jdrf.org.uk/campaigns/countmein or

Diabetes UK: http://www.diabetes.org.uk/Get_involved/Campaigning/Our-campaigns/4-Ts-campaign/

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