“Diabetes is like riding a bike,” 17-year-old Lauren explains in her positive can-do manner. “It’s confusing until you get the hang of it, then it all comes naturally.”
It’s one of those statements she will probably repeat again and again to her patients when she becomes an endocrinologist herself.
At least that’s the plan. For a teenager, things can change on a moment’s notice. But Lauren took to this type 1 diabetes business in an interesting way and she has made her doctor, Jose Canas, M.D., director of endocrinology at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, very proud.
“Her determination. Her poise. She’s just fantastic,” boasts Canas. “She has mastered the ability to self care. She has found the key to living successfully with diabetes. So much of it is attitude and Lauren has taken it to the next level—through her research projects in high school, and her determination to study endocrinology, she plans to not only care for her own health, but is hoping to improve the outcomes of the next generation of children with diabetes.”
Lauren has taken on a project in high school entitled The Effect of Heavy Metal Exposure on the Inhibition of Insulin Production by Insulin Producing Beta Cells and the Trigger of Diabetes Mellitus Type 1.
“The project was an independent research project I conducted at my high school in Sarasota in our lab. I wanted to do something related to type 1 diabetes and there has already been research conducted using many other heavy metals,” she explains with pride. “My research involved the process of sub culturing beta cells from rat tissue. The goal was to see if exposure of nickel to these cells would trigger the onset of type 1 diabetes.” Lauren was able to measure the amount of insulin secreted by the cells by conducting an ELISA test, which is a technique used to detect antibodies or infectious agents in a sample.
Lauren’s project showed that there was, indeed, a decrease in insulin secretion with the presence of nickel. She will be conducting more research in her senior year to confirm her results and further the research with different concentrations of nickel, cell proliferation, and cell viability.
“Once you have that passion, it is your path to success, both for Lauren dealing with her own diabetes and for her future should she decide to follow a path in medicine,” Canas adds.
Lauren was first diagnosed at age 12. Her mother noticed she was drinking an enormous amount of water, and she wasn’t feeling well. The family’s Sarasota pediatrician recommended the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Endocrinology Program.
Lauren and her mom met with doctors, and were overwhelmed with the information they received. They watched a lot of videos, asked a lot of questions and learned how to manage type 1 diabetes.
Lauren started out receiving insulin shots and learned how to calculate her own insulin requirements and monitor and regulate her own blood sugar. Recently she started using the new Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitoring system. It helps kids avoid those nasty finger pricks to test their blood while alerting 24/7 for out-of-range numbers.
“It’s just so helpful to know your numbers at any given moment,” Lauren says. “I wish I had the Dexcom right from the start.”
“Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease that can be managed but not cured, so the goal for us now is to work with our patients on how to properly deal with the emotional as well as the physical side of the disease—ideally, as beautifully as a patient like Lauren has,” Canas concludes. “We provide them with the information, the tools and the support that empowers them to take back their lives and enjoy every minute.”
These days, Lauren is very busy doing just that. She’s looking forward to college having completed Florida State University’s SSTRIDE Summer Medical Institute that allowed her to shadow doctors and learn what to expect from medical school. She spent spring break touring medical schools. She also babysits several very young children who also have type 1 diabetes, which is giving her—and them—a great experience in sharing information and compassion with others who share her condition. And this summer, she plans to volunteer at the hospital to further prepare her for a career in medicine.
Lauren has had the benefit of learning that being a patient of a chronic disease is perhaps the best secret to making her an excellent physician. For that she is grateful.