• U.S.

Diagnosis: Detecting Diabetes Diabetes Early

3 minute read

Secretaries turned out during their lunch hour; housewives with kids queued up before trips to the supermarket; businessmen stopped by after a day at the office. Wherever the blue-and-white trailer picked a place to park in Cleveland, crowds gathered for a free drink of flavored corn syrup. And two hours later the drinkers returned to the trailer. Not that Clevelanders were afflicted with a sudden thirst; on their second visit, instead of getting another shot of syrup, they donated a blood sample. A technician smeared the blood on chemically treated cardboard. In a matter of moments the results were obvious. If the cardboard changed color from grey to blue, sugar from the corn syrup had not returned to normal level in the drinker’s blood, showing a distinct possibility of diabetes.

The city-wide campaign organized by DAC (Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland) was eloquent testimony to one of the ironies of modern medicine. Diabetes has been a well-controlled, though incurable, disease ever since 1921 when Sir Frederick Banting and Charles Best first extracted insulin from sweetbreads. But with the aged accounting for more and more of the U.S. population, and diabetes predominantly a disease of old age, it is estimated that one person in every 80 is a sufferer. Says International Diabetes Federation President Howard Root: “Excluding goiter, diabetes is the most prevalent endocrine disorder in the U.S.”

Early diagnosis means that insulin or other treatment may help prevent such complications as hypertension, calcified arteries, and blindness. And the DAC test, developed by Drs. Gerald Kent and Jack Leonards of Western Reserve University, detects the disease even before sugar begins to appear in the urine—where it is now picked up by conventional testing.

In Cleveland, whenever a cardboard test strip turns blue, a second blood sample is taken for more thorough testing in the Kent-Leonards auto-analyzer at Western Reserve. If this test is also positive, the subject is asked to come in for a third check; if diabetes is still indicated, the subject’s doctor is informed by letter, then by a telephone followup. Thus far, the tests have turned up a 4.5% incidence of diabetes among Clevelanders, and Kent and Leonards suspect that the old estimate of approximately 1% for the entire U.S. is far too low. They hope to get a chance to check their hunch next year when the DAC test, with its corn-syrup cocktail, is expected to get a nationwide tryout.

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