You may not have heard his name before, but everyone in the Diabetes Community really should know about the Colorado-based endocrinologist Dr. H. Peter Chase.
Even if you don’t immediately recognize his name, you might be familiar with the Pink Panther diabetes books dating back to the 1970s that many families still consider their “Diabetes Bible."
Yes, Dr. Chase is behind those. He’s been a huge influencer in the D-world, who began leading the diabetes clinic at the University of Colorado in 1976 -- four years before it became known as the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes. and eventually rose to become one of the top diabetes centers for childhood diabetes in the world.
Dr. Chase has been involved in cure research through the years and now, at age 80, is mostly retired from his position at Barbara Davis. He continues participating part-time in a closed loop tech trial that will wrap up in early 2017, and then plans to fully retire and also publish his very first diabetes-themed novel called “Cure.”
We were privileged to connect with Dr. Chase recently by phone (in the middle of a big snowstorm, actually), and we’re excited to share that interview with all of you today.
DM) First, can you tell us how you got started in the diabetes field?
Dr. Chase) I was in the right place at the right time. In the '70s, local pediatricians couldn’t really handle kids with diabetes anymore like they had before then. The home glucose monitors and the ability to review that data changed how general doctors handled diabetes, so care started being switched to specialty clinics. Care was getting more complex.
The head of the pediatric department at our institute here at the University of Colorado asked if I would start a children’s diabetes clinic. My mentor at the time told me that he would keep an office for me, for the two or three years this would stay open, until I came back. So that’s how I got into diabetes.
What was it like in those early days?
We were seeing about 30 children with diabetes consistently at that time, at least twice a year in one clinic or another – sometimes not even all at the same place. Then we started the clinic here, and set up nine outreach clinics in places that included Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana that didn’t have even pediatric endocrinologists. That made us recognized as a diabetes specialty clinic, and helped the clinic grow.
As a result of these outreach clinics, we had gone from 30 patients to 450 patients by 1980. We were fortunate, as the university couldn’t hold us any longer and we needed a new clinic.
How did the clinic there become the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes?
What happened in the mid-70s, is that a young lady named Dana Davis developed diabetes. She was 7 years old at the time. Her parents were Barbara and Marvin Davis, and he was one of the 10 wealthiest men in the United States. We worked with the family and went to their home, and then suggested they go to the Joslin Clinic in Boston, which was certainly the number one center at the time for diabetes. They went there, and Dana was hospitalized for about a week, and they came home after that. Her mother said we need a clinic like that in Denver. They donated the initial $1.2 million to get a building here, which was connected to the university hospital, and it was named the Barbara Davis Center in honor of the mother.
Wow, was it instantly a success?
Actually, no one thought the center would take off. A physician in Denver had saved Marvin’s father’s life, and that physician was interested in geriatric medicine, so Marvin had built a huge building connected to our city-county hospital in the mid 70s, and it was three or four times larger than our initial center and had 40 beds. They brought the head of the NIH Aging Institute to lead that, and Marvin’s physician was going to be the clinician there. This would have been the first major geriatrics center at a university in the US. But they never got 40 beds open and spent hundreds of thousands getting all the lab equipment the new research director wanted. The university eventually went over and padlocked the doors of the geriatric center because it was so in debt. Lo and behold, two years later, the Barbara Davis Center was opening.
So, the dean of the school of medicine told me, ‘I’m giving you no money to help with your center and I’m giving you a half-time administrator, only because I want the doors locked before you get into debt like the geriatric center did.’ So, I got a half-time administrator for free for the first three years.
Sounds like it defied expectations!
Barbara Davis, as it turned out, was quite the innovator. She setup a guild of the most prominent women in Denver, and they put on fundraisers for the center – such as what became known as the Carousal Ball, and all kinds of dinners and money-making events, and Carousel Day where a whole block was roped off downtown with activities. It turned out, Barbara’s work in raising money was the number one support financially for the first few years. We’ve never gone broke or in the red. Diabetes got very exciting in Denver!
You’ve been there even before day one…?
I was here starting in 1976, and then once the Barbara Davis Center opened, I was the only full time physician here from 1980 to 1983 when I went into the research division.
Can you talk about your research days?
There has been a lot that’s happened in diabetes research through the years, from the hemoglobin A1C in the early 90s and then Humalog in the 90s. We were involved in the Humalog trials and I was primary investigator, and we actually got audited by the FDA because we had more patients than anyone using Humalog in the trial. That was a major key, better control, after the landmark Diabetes and Complication and Controls Trial (DCCT).
We now have about 7,000 patients who are seen at the center, and we’re considered the top in type 1 diabetes. We don’t have much of a focus on type 2, so Joslin is still considered the best there. But we do have a type 2 children’s clinic once a week on Tuesday, and that’s enlarging so much we’re moving part of that to another facility.
You must be so very proud of all the Center’s accomplished over the years?
I am very proud, that we went from not having a clinic, to being named the number one clinic for people with type 1 diabetes by an international rating agency.
Really, it has been a labor of love. I’ve been offered many opportunities to be in other positions, whether it’s commercial or at pediatric centers across the country, but have stayed where I was out of principal and got to do what I’ve enjoyed.
You’re still working on the research front, correct?
I am still working part-time. I had stopped seeing patients about a year ago in December, but have been working on clinical trial work through a research grant that deals with the Artificial Pancreas. We’re still doing the last study, expected to be complete in early March 2017. We’ve developed a predictive low glucose suspend algorithm with some people at Stanford during the past 8 years, and it’s going into one of the commercial pumps. It will also minimize hypo and hyperglycemia, along with a predictive LGS that will go into a pump.
Dr. Bruce Buckingham at Stanford and I have been working closely on all of this, and it’s been exciting helping to develop the Artificial Pancreas in the past 15 years. We were all alone on this a decade or so ago, with these two algorithms, but there have now been many newer people who’ve come in and helped on all of this research and gotten their names on the papers.
After March, I will be done with research.
When did you start publishing the 'Understanding Diabetes' Pink Panther-themed books?
The first two monograph printings were in the '60s, created by a parent in their basement using an old Army press and sent out for free. The first actual publication of the book was in 1970.
This is a non-profit book that has gone out to more than two million families globally, first in English and Spanish but also Arabic and Chinese offered online. So we really don’t know how many have read it or benefited from this book series across the world.
But there isn’t a week that goes by where a parent doesn't come in and say they were educated by the Understanding Diabetes book, and now their child is being educated with the same book – which is amazing. About 14,000 of roughly 17K new onsets of type 1 in the US get the JDRF Bag of Hope, which includes a free synopsis book for families that is about at the level of what they need in those early days.
Why the Pink Panther character on the cover?
It was honestly because we needed something a little bit humorous, in a time of such seriousness in a family’s life, being diagnosed with diabetes. People used to know the Pink Panther, even though they don’t so much nowadays. But they still smile at the picture, which is a nice break for them because you wouldn’t want to see a picture of someone doing a scary injection. So we’ve continued to use that. The copyright of the Pink Panther at Goldwyn-Mayer has gone through a few different owners in the time we’ve had it, and they make it cost-accountable to make sure the money goes to a non-profit foundation. But we’ve never had them turn us down for using the Pink Panther in the pictures.
How has the book evolved over the years?
The most recent book that’s just out a month ago focuses on Understanding Insulin Pumps, CGMs and the Artificial Pancreas, and that’s the third edition. The other ones are in the 13th edition since 1970. That first one is known as the synopsis book, that's 121 pages. The full Understanding Diabetes book is about 300+ pages and is for people who’ve had diabetes for a while and want a more in-depth look.
It’s so interesting to look back at how much has changed in diabetes since those first editions that talked about the CliniTest for monitoring sugar in the urine. Mentioned in the books are the GlucoWatch from many years ago, and Abbott’s FreeStyle Navigator CGM – neither of which continued in the US market. But the Dexcom and Medtronic’s CGM have filled the gaps and are mentioned in the book.
It’s been fascinating to see all the changes, and be able to capture that in our books through the years for families to use in understanding diabetes.
And money from the books goes to the Barbara Davis Center?
Our Children’s Diabetes Foundation (now led by Dana Davis, who as mentioned was diagnosed at age 7) gets the income from it, and it’s the second biggest revenue-producer for our foundation for many decades, allowing the center to stay open at a time when things were financially difficult.
Also, some of the diabetes families I’ve known started an endowment in my name about 15 years ago, and since then the Children’s Diabetes Foundation has kindly put 10% of the money from the books into the Chase Endowed Chair. It’s gotten to almost $2 million at this point.
Do you plan to continue with 'Understanding Diabetes,' or any other writing, after your full retirement?
I think I’ve retired about four times over the years, since age 65. But it’s time now for real, at age 80. Yes, I do plan to continue the books and writing. I’ve written my first novel and have started my second. The first one is called Cure, and you can guess what it’s a cure for… (chuckles). They do say to write your first novel about something you know about, so I did. I’m having it edited now, and will see if I can get that published in the better half of 2017. I’ve also written the first chapter of my second novel. I will put the money from the novels into the endowed chair, since I am well off financially. It will be fun to see what happens.
Thank you for all you’ve done through the years, Dr. Chase! We appreciate how you've helped countless people in the D-Community, and can’t wait to see what comes with the next chapter in your life.