DRWF Research Manager Dr Eleanor Kennedy reports from the American Diabetes Association 79th Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, USA.
This year’s American Diabetes Association meeting is in sunny San Francisco on the Californian coast and, as I walk to the sprawling conference centre, I am reminded just how huge these meetings are.
Thousands of delegates from around the world are gathering here and, over the course of the next five days, we will have access to more than 180 sessions and over 2,000 original research presentations. Obviously, I cannot go to all of them – at any one time there can be up to eight streams running in parallel, ranging from acute and chronic complications and epidemiology to immunology and insulin secretion.
My first stop on Day 1 is easy though. The chairman of the DRWF’s Research Advisory Board, Professor David Matthews, is taking part in a debate about hypoglycaemia. He is standing for, “Yes, hypoglycaemia causes cardiovascular events,” and he is up against a formidable foe in the form of Professor Thomas Pieber from the University of Graz in Austria who suggests: “No, hypoglycaemia is a marker for cardiovascular frailty”.
This is a good natured and humorous debate with a very even split in the audience both before and after the debate which focusses largely on clinical trial evidence but it also raised the very real paucity of knowledge in this field – does hypoglycaemia actually lead of cardiovascular events or is it simply a “biomarker” of it. It’s a busy session and a thought-provoking one too.
From there I head back across the street to another part of this complex to listen to an interesting presentation on rigour and integrity in diabetes research. As a funder of diabetes research not just here in the States but also across the UK, Sweden, Finland, Norway and France, as part of our international DRWF family, these are issues very close to my heart. How do we know that the research that we are funding is actually the best? Are we reviewing all of the grant applications we receive fairly?
Reproducibility is a huge issue for scientists and clinicians working in the field – Professor Dan Drucker from the University of Toronto in Canada shows disturbing data that up to 50% of research may not be reproducible. And this might not necessarily have anything to do with scientific misconduct. It can be due to any number of factors including different animal models being used or different agents being used or being bought from different companies.
And we shouldn’t always be swayed by publications that have the “wow” factor – those papers in the highest impact journals. Because, often, these are the very papers that have the most issues with reproducibility and frequently have such poorly written materials and methods sections that actually trying to reproduce the data in a different laboratory is nigh impossible. There are usually no penalties for – either occasionally or repeatedly – conducting research that is not reproducible. And reproducibility is rarely formally tracked.
But how do we change this culture? Again, it’s a thought-provoking session and it’s an area that funders like DRWF need to keep a weather eye on.
And I end the day at a session on the new concepts in the molecular mechanisms leading to type 1 diabetes. This is a complex session that takes in everything from the powerhouses of the cells, the mitochondria, to new genes and new single cell analysis techniques.
But the star of the show? Well, that would be a mouse! A little Californian mouse is, depending on who you are, either delighting you or terrifying you by running amok though the session! Under people’s feet, weaving artfully among the seats, this little mouse is diverting attention. But I would argue that it is not.
Ever since the seminal discovery of insulin by Banting and Best and Marjorie, the dog, in whom the role of insulin was first elucidated, animal research has been a cornerstone of all the work we do regardless of the disease.
And, as we listen to research in mouse models, little Californian mouse reminds us of this and of how far we have come. We may not yet know the complete picture but, thanks to Marjorie, the dog, and to little Californian mouse’s relatives, we have a much better understanding of the condition that is claiming so many lives globally and I, for one, am very grateful for that.