Funding the Search for a Cure
The ADA Research Foundation Supports Important Science
Back when Don and Arleen Wagner's 10-year-old daughter, Suzie, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the Pittsburgh-area couple were completely unfamiliar with diabetes in children. Their doctor said that there would probably be a cure by the time Suzie went to college. But 25 years after the diagnosis, the Wagners (pictured above, with Suzie, in 2005) are still waiting.
"As we all learn, the disease is much more complicated than we could dream of," says Arleen Wagner, 63. "I want a cure, and so do a lot of people. And that's why I think it's very important to get funding for research." She and her husband began helping out at local fund-raising events for the American Diabetes Association more than two decades ago. In 2000, Don Wagner, now 64, began serving on the board of directors of the American Diabetes Association'' Research Foundation, and was chairman from 2005 to 2007. The Wagners have also supported the Research Foundation with their own $1 million gift in 2004, cosponsoring an islet cell replacement research program. (They made the gift after the sale of Don Wagner's medical devices company.) "We had an islet cell information day in Chicago [coordinated] by the Research Foundation, and researchers came in and gave an update on their research," Don Wagner says. "That was very rewarding for my wife and me to see where our money went, and what was accomplished."
Founded in 1994, the Research Foundation is part of the overall ADA research program, which funds more than $40 million in grants each year. ADA is unique in that 100 percent of donations to the Research Foundation go directly to research into type 1 and type 2 diabetes. This year the foundation's goal is to raise about $7 million of the research program's total budget of $42.5 million. ADA has spent more than $500 million since the mid-1950s supporting more than 4,000 projects. "We have funded research that has impacted diabetes throughout our history," says Scott Campbell, PhD, vice president of research at ADA, "basic science and clinical research in every aspect of every major advance, [such as in] complications, meters, type 1 immunology, and obesity."
As the number of people with diabetes continues to grow (an estimated 23.6 million in the United States alone), so does the demand for research dollars. In 2008, ADA received 924 grant applications, roughly 35 percent more than in 2005. The $42.5 million the Association spent on type 1 and type 2 research last year funded 442 researchers at more than 172 leading institutions across the country.
Those awards are granted through a peer-review process. Research professionals volunteer their time to serve on ADA's Grant Review Committee, which selects the most promising and innovative projects to fund. "We made a commitment many years ago to fund people with bright ideas—not just people with the biggest curriculum vitae," says Ralph Yates, DO, chairman of the Research Foundation. "We quite possibly would fund [researchers] who wouldn't get funding elsewhere. We've made huge progress, and that's one of the reasons I keep doing what I'm doing."
For Yates, whose daughter was diagnosed with type 1 some 25 years ago, at age 2, furthering the search for a cure through research funding also means supporting his own family's struggle with diabetes. "The way we deal with the daily reality of this disease is to try to move the process forward in terms of improving the lives of individuals with diabetes," Yates says. "There's nothing that has more personal importance to me."
Yates works with the other volunteers and staff in the Research Foundation to spread the word about funding research projects. He says it's important to note that every contribution makes a difference. While the Wagners' contribution is notably generous, the majority of research dollars provided through ADA are funded by individual contributions much smaller than theirs. Every donor can directly affect the future of diabetes.
"You never know which [study] will provide the next breakthrough," Yates says. Adds Wagner: "The true breakthrough discoveries are incremental in most cases; they build on one another. "We … are contributing to that every day."
ADA's Scientific Sessions: All That's New in Diabetes
In June, the American Diabetes Association will host its 69th annual Scientific Sessions, in New Orleans. At the conference, more than 2,300 researchers will share the latest in diabetes care and research, including the results of new studies.
More than 15,000 researchers, physicians, nurses, dietitians, and other health care professionals attended last year's conference, which covered such significant diabetes news as the results of three major studies evaluating the effect of glucose control on heart disease risk.
For more information, visit scientificsessions.diabetes.org.