We lost an icon this week in Alan Thicke.
He's the Canadian actor best known for playing iconic TV dad Dr. Jason Seaver on the '80s sitcom "Growing Pains." And hearing of his death seems like a punch to the gut for an entire generation (myself included) who grew up watching his congenial humor. Like many, I feel like I knew him based on his incredibly relatable public persona.
At age 69, Alan Thicke suffered a heart attack and died suddenly on Tuesday of this week.
Not only was he a star on the acting scene and in the hockey world, given his passion for the sport, but he also shined in the Diabetes Community. Alan's oldest son Brennan was diagnosed with type 1 at age 4 back in the late '70s, and now 37 years later, that diabetes diagnosis has been a huge part of the Thicke family's life script. (Yes, one of his other sons is pop music star Robin Thicke.)
Over the years, Alan became a veteran on the diabetes advocacy circuit, particularly on diabetes cure research. We enjoyed reading about his efforts -- including a great interview by our friends at Insulin Nation, and this more recent chat with Brennan's mom and Alan's ex-wife Gloria Loring over at Glu. We remember him fondly from the early days of the Diabetes Hero Squad, where he played "the Commissioner of Diabetes" to help raise awareness with (of course) humor.
He also appeared in TV commercials for diabetes supplies, and in recent years it was great to see photos of him supporting new diabetes research awareness efforts, like wearing one of the cool The Human Trial shirts promoting that D-research documentary project.
Following Alan's death this week, the JDRF issued a statement honoring his legacy, and saying the actor and D-Dad "never lost sight of his crusade for a cure."
Alongside countless hours devoted to volunteering and raising awareness on the T1D cause, and all the dollars donated and raised, the Thicke Family was also instrumental in helping JDRF establish Canada-based chapters in Ottawa and Calgary, as well as helping the Los Angeles chapter grow.
Alan Thicke Centre for Diabetes Research
In 1989, he founded the nonprofit Alan Thicke Centre (ATC) for Juvenile Diabetes Research in his home country of Canada, and purposefully set that in London -- the very birthplace of insulin, where Dr. Frederick Banting came up with the idea back in 1921, and where the Banting House is located.
As the organization's website describes it, the Alan Thicke Centre is "really a virtual Centre (without walls), consisting of a mass of dedicated, talented and creative scientists" from several Canadian facilities -- the Lawson Health Research Institute, St. Joseph's Health Care in London, The University of Western Ontario, Robarts Research Institute and the London Health Sciences Centre. The organization is linked to Alan Thicke's alma mater, the University of Western Ontario.
We reached out to ATC President (also a D-Dad himself) Paul Beamish, whose 5-year-old daughter was diagnosed in 1987, and he joined the newly-formed ATC three years later.
"All of us on the Alan Thicke Centre Board are deeply saddened by Alan’s untimely death. Alan was a great advocate towards finding a cure for diabetes. Alan regularly made himself available to talk about diabetes, also assisting with a great deal of fund raising for over half his life. The ATC Board will be meeting soon to discuss next steps," Beamish told us.
We certainly hope the work that Alan Thicke was so passionate about will continue through his org, which we understand is pretty influential and has garnered national and worldwide attention over the years. Research focusing on regenerating insulin-producing beta cells within the islets that have benefited from the group's funding include:
- Using bone marrow -derived stem cells to enhance the body's ability to regenerate the endocrine pancreas after damage, such as enhancing the ability to replicate the existing islet cells, and to protect those islets from further damage.
- Examining a small subset of progenitor beta cells that can change identity, learning how these cells are different from typical beta cells, and how they are activated after diabetes presence.
The organization's scientific advisor, Dr. David Hill, wrote to us in an email statement: "The Alan Thicke Foundation has been instrumental in helping to launch novel ideas in diabetes research that would have been deemed too high a risk for investment by (Canadian) Federal or Provincial research agencies."
"For my own laboratory, this enabled us to investigate and characterize the presence and potential of resident stem-like cells within the pancreas, and their potential for reversing diabetes, at a time when scientific dogma was firmly against the existence of such cells. A series of papers has helped open this area of research to others globally, and the findings have subsequently been reviewed within an article by others published in the top scientific journal, Nature. This would never have happened without the support of Alan Thicke."
Our hearts are heavy, but we appreciate all that Alan did in the name of diabetes over the years.
He may be gone now, but we're confident that the world -- and our D-Community -- will continue "sharing the laughter and love" in his name going forward.
RIP, Alan Thicke.