Having a Dunedin research unit is amazing. To have it within the district is pretty cool.There is one day that Alexandra mother Sharee Lietze will never forget.
“On the 29th of August 2015, I was living through the worst day of my life,” Mrs Lietze said.
Her daughter Zoe, 15 months old at the time, began to have excessive thirst and was passing urine frequently.
“She got extremely sick very quickly,” Mrs Lietze said.
Zoe was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and had ketoacidosis, which meant she had severely high levels of ketones and blood sugar.
“From diagnosis to Dunedin Hospital via chopper was three hours,” Mrs Lietze said.
Zoe recovered and is now a healthy 3-year-old, but her condition requires constant monitoring.
“Type 1 diabetics are insulin dependent.
“It’s not related to lifestyle, and can happen even if there is no history in the family,” Mrs Lietze said.
“Their pancreas no longer works, which means that I have to monitor the glucose levels in her blood constantly.”
Up to 13 pinpricks a day allow Mrs Lietze to monitor Zoe’s levels, and she also has a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
“This is not subsidised, and costs almost $10,000,” Mrs Lietze said.
About 10% of people with diabetes have type 1, Diabetes New Zealand says. That is more than 20,000 people.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood and there is at present no cure; it requires lifelong management.
“Within half an hour, Zoe could go from a stable level to life-threatening,” Mrs Lietze said.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and Mrs Lietze is fundraising for a team of researchers who are looking for a cure for type 1 diabetes.
“It is a team run by the Spinal Cord Society of New Zealand (SCSNZ),” Mrs Lietze said.
“Having a Dunedin research unit is amazing. To have it within the district is pretty cool.”
Dr Paul Turner leads the research team at the SCSNZ.
“I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 9 months old,” Dr Turner said.
“SCSNZ are now working towards developing a treatment that can be applied to people with type 1 diabetes.
“We have built up a library of bone marrow stem cells and white blood cells. It is our hope that these adult bone marrow stem cells can turn off auto-immune responses, which is why we are interested in using them as a treatment in type 1 diabetes.”
Dr Turner said SCSNZ was hoping to publish findings next year and eventually move on to clinical trials.
For Mrs Lietze and her husband, Bradley, who are constantly monitoring Zoe’s glucose levels day and night, fundraising for a cure is for all the other families out there.
“Whatever we do will benefit everyone, so that’s where the push is coming from,” Mrs Lietze said.