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Insulin in pregnancy: A look back at history for Diabetes Awareness Month


 

Each November, Diabetes Awareness Month, we commemorate the myriad advances that have made living with diabetes possible. This year is especially auspicious as it marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin by Frederick Banting, MD, and Charles Best, MD. The miracle of insulin cannot be overstated. In the preinsulin era, life expectancy after a diabetes diagnosis was 4-7 years for a 30-year-old patient. Within 3 years after the introduction of insulin, life expectancy after diagnosis jumped to about 17 years, a 167% increase.1

Dr. E. Albert Reece, vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the school of medicine.

Dr. E. Albert Reece

For ob.gyns. and their patients, insulin was a godsend. In the early 1920s, patients with pre-existing diabetes and pregnancy (recall that gestational diabetes mellitus would not be recognized as a unique condition until the 1960s)2 were advised to terminate the pregnancy; those who did not do so faced almost certain death for the fetus and, sometimes, themselves.3 By 1935, approximately 10 years after the introduction of insulin into practice, perinatal mortality dropped by 25%. By 1955, it had dropped by nearly 63%.4

The advent of technologies such as continuous glucose monitors, mobile phone–based health applications, and the artificial pancreas, have further transformed diabetes care.5 In addition, studies using animal models of diabetic pregnancy have revealed the molecular mechanisms responsible for hyperglycemia-induced birth defects – including alterations in lipid metabolism, excess generation of free radicals, and aberrant cell death – and uncovered potential strategies for prevention.6

To reflect on the herculean accomplishments in ob.gyn. since the discovery of insulin, we have invited two pillars of the diabetes in pregnancy research and clinical care communities: Steven G. Gabbe, MD, current professor of ob.gyn. at The Ohio State University (OSU) College of Medicine, former chair of ob.gyn. at OSU and University of Washington Medical Center, former senior vice president for health sciences and CEO of the OSU Medical Center, and former dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; and Mark B. Landon, MD, the Richard L. Meiling professor and chair of ob.gyn. at OSU.

Dr. Reece, who specializes in maternal-fetal medicine, is executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, as well as the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the school of medicine. He is the medical editor of this column. He has no relevant financial disclosures. Contact him at obnews@mdedge.com.

References

1. Brostoff JM et al. Diabetologia. 2007;50(6):1351-3.

2. Panaitescu AM and Peltecu G. Acta Endocrinol (Buchar). 2016;12(3):331-4.

3. Joslin EP. Boston Med Surg J 1915;173:841-9.

4. Gabbe SG and Graves CR. Obstet Gynecol. 2003;102(4):857-68.

5. Crimmins SD et al. Clin Diabetes. 2020;38(5):486-94.

6. Gabbay-Benziv R et al. World J Diabetes. 2015;6(3):481-8.

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