Telemedicine Treatment Options and Diabetes Mellitus
Diabetes is an endocrine disorder that alters the way the body breaks down glucose in the blood. While glucose is necessary to fuel the body, too much of it can damage the internal organs, muscles, and nerves. After digestion, glucose enters the bloodstream, and in order to pass into the body’s cells, insulin must be also present. Insulin is the hormone that the pancreas secretes. When you eat, the pancreas produces the right amount of insulin to process circulating glucose. With diabetes, this cannot occur. Either no insulin is produced (type 1 diabetes), or the body is resistant to the insulin (insulin resistance) (NDIC, 2013).
Undiagnosed Diabetes in America
As many as 6.3 million adults in the U.S. have diabetes mellitus and do not know it. This undiagnosed health problem causes an estimated $18 billion in costs each year. Diabetes cost the U.S. economy around $174 billion in 2007, due to medical expenses and lost work time. That figure does not take into account the economic costs linked to undiagnosed diabetes. Annual healthcare costs for people with prediabetes continue to grow, according to experts Zhang and associates (2013).
Researcher Zhang and colleagues (2005) from the Lewin Group in Virginia along with associates from Ingenix Research in New Jersey studied the health care use patterns of a group of participants over a two year period leading up to the diagnosis of diabetes. This medical condition affects the human body at least 5 years or more before the actual diagnosis is made.
People who have “prediabetes” have blood glucose levels that are elevated, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. This condition raises the risk for the later development of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Also, people with prediabetes have an impaired fasting glucose tolerance (IGT). The good news is that people with this condition can lower their risk by losing only 5 percent of their total body weight through diet and exercise (NDIC, 2013).
BioHub: Quantum Leap toward Biological Cure for Diabetes
Researchers have made a quantum leap toward a biological cure for diabetes. The DRI BioHub is a bioengineered “mini organ” that mocks the pancreas. This organ contains cells that produce insulin, and it can sense glucose in the bloodstream. When this occurs, the organ releases the exact amount of insulin the body needs – in real time. For the millions of people with diabetes, the DRI BioHub could be the answer to their problems.
If someone has type 1 diabetes, their immune system accidently destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. They have no “islet” cells, which are needed to process glucose. The DRI’s focus is to replace those cells. In recent clinical trials, researchers with the Diabetes Research Organization (2013) have transplanted islet cells from donor organs into people with type 1 diabetes. The recipients were able to achieve insulin independence with the use of this technology, In other words, they started producing insulin.
Scientists Now Have a Tool to Advance Diabetes Technology Forward
According to Dr. Ricordi at the Diabetes Research Institute, the BioHub gives scientists a tool that allows them to move cellular therapies and biological replacement strategies forward. While islet transplantation has been studied in humans, there are several challenges to overcome before it can be offered to all diabetics. These include:
• Supply – There is need for donor organs.
• Sustainability – There is a need for recipient to accept the cells long-term without requiring anti-rejection drugs.
• Site – The scientists still must identify an optional body site to house the new cells.
The DRI BioHub is designed to house healthy insulin-secreting islet cells, which can sense elevated glucose in the blood and release insulin in sufficient amounts. The scientists are currently developing and testing platforms for this mini organ, such as a biocompatible silicon scaffold. They also are looking at using the patient’s own abdominal veins. The researchers are confident that the BioHub will restore natural insulin production, but the duration of the cure is limited. Several anti-rejection drugs are needed for the mini organ to remain in the body. They do know that an islet cell transplant can work for more than 15 years, based on current studies.
Telemedicine: Healthcare’s New Frontier
If you have diabetes and hate going in to see the doctor, you should consider the many benefits of telemedicine. Doctors can make treatment options simple by using prescriptions. Telemedicine is a means of facilitating the distribution of healthcare resources to patients everywhere. It can speed up the diagnosis and clinical care delivery to allow patients to receive continuous assistance from virtual healthcare providers.
The Eruopean Space Agency (2005) set up a program to study the use of telehealth via satellite. The Telemedicine Working Group, composed of health professionals and patients, seeks to improve the effectiveness and acceptance of quality telemedical services. The use of satellite-bsed ICT for telemedicine is becoming more operational, and should be integrated into the existing European healthcare system soon.
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