Hopefully you’re all aware that March is Women’s History Month and March 8 marked International Woman’s Day. With that, we are proud to highlight some of the influential women who’ve made an indelible impact on our Diabetes Community. The list below reflects on decades past as well as women out there who are actively making a difference even as you read this.
Without a doubt, our D-world not be the same without these women. So if you’ve never heard their names, now’s your chance to give a little nod of thanks.
Dr. Priscilla White: practiced with diabetes pioneer Dr. Elliot Joslin in Boston and co-founded the Joslin Diabetes Center, not long after the discovery of insulin in the 1920s. She immediately began working with children with diabetes in that clinic, becoming a pioneer in children’s diabetes care and pregnancy in the 1920s-40s (including advocacy for women with diabetes to receive specialized care during pregnancy). She was instrumental in the creation of the Clara Barton Camp for Girls in the early 1930s. History shows that the fetal success rate was 54% when Dr. White began working at Joslin, and when she retired in ’74 it rose to more than 90%. During her five decades of work, records state that she managed the deliveries of over 2,200 women with diabetes and the supervision of ~10,000 cases of T1D. After retiring she continued working on the emotional problems of young people with diabetes. Dr. White became the first woman in 1960 to receive the Banting Medal for her legacy in diabetes, and she’s been named as one of the 12 most outstanding physicians in the world.
Dr. Helen M. Free: along with her husband Alfred, invented in 1956 the Clinistix, a chemically coated dip-and-read stick measuring urine that would change color based on the amount of glucose — long before blood sugar and finger-sticks were established! After deciding on chemistry in college after many of the young men were drafted into World War II, she went to work in research at Miles Lab (which eventually became a part of Bayer) and developed early generations of urine testing, with tablets known as Clinitest and Acetest that were like Alka-Seltzer tablets that fizz when placed in liquid. This was the first diagnostic test of its kind that could be done in a doctor’s office or a hospital without elaborate laboratory facilities, and eventually it led to the Clinistix and Tes-Tape allowing PWDs to check urine-glucose at home. She’s been inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame, among other distinctions. This Science History Institute profile of Dr. Helen Free sums up her historic career and legacy quite nicely, and we certainly know that our diabetes management wouldn’t have evolved as it did without her ground-breaking work.
Dr. Dorothy C. Hodgkin: this England woman’s research starting in the 30s eventually led to technology that could decipher the three-dimensional structure of insulin (along with penicillin and Vitamin B12). That work led to her Nobel Prize in 1969 as well as later R&D on newer insulins and public awareness about insulin’s importance. She’s been honored with a tribute stamp in the United Kingdom, recognizing not only her scientific contributions but her passion for peace and humanitarian causes — including the welfare of scientists in the USA, UK, Korea and Vietnam areas in the 60s and 70s. This profile by the Science History Institute delves into her life.
Lee Ducat + Carol Lurie:
These two D-Moms in PA were the original founders of the JDRF, which at the time in 1970 was known as the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (JDF) before the name change in the 90s. They were the ones who tapped actress Mary Tyler Moore in the 1970s to become the public face of T1D advocacy, something the actress had not been very vocal about up until that time. The work of this organization has changing the funding mechanism in Congress and beyond over the decades, focusing on diabetes cure research as well as treatments and advancements in how we live with diabetes until that cure is developed and available. Without these women (and so many more since that time), our D-world would be dramatically different.
Dr. Rosalyn Sussman Yalow: a nuclear physicist by training who co-developed something called radioimmunoassay (RIA), used to measure concentrations of hundreds substances in the body, including insulin — the possibilities are really endless and it’s been used over the years to ID hormones, vitamins and enzymes for many different health conditions. For her work, she won a Nobel Prize in 1977.
Dr. Lois Jovanovic: a Santa Barbara endocrinologist who has done pivotal research on gestational diabetes and more broadly diabetes and pregnancy, responsible for the safe delivery of babies dating back to 1980. She’s also a third-generation T1D herself, as her father was also T1, and her grandmother was one of the first to receive insulin at age 8 in 1922. Some have described Dr. Jovanovic as “the woman who changed he way we treat diabetes today,” including her work to create a “Pocket Doc” insulin dosing calculator in the 80s along with involvement in the landmark Diabetes In Early Pregnancy study and the Diabetes Control and Complications trial. Among her many roles in the D-Commuity she spent more than a quarter century at the Samsun Diabetes Research Institute and served as chief scientific officer there from 1996 to 2014. She’s also helped pave the way for modern Artificial Pancreas research through her work, and she’s widely seen as a world authority in the diabetes space. This is a great profile on her, personally and professionally. UPDATE: We were sad to report in September 2018 that Dr. Jovanovic passed away. Here is our profile on her.
Barbara Davis: the name behind the Barbara Davis Center in Colorado. She was an incredible philanthropist who began her work in diabetes by founding the Children Diabetes Foundation in 1977, which over the years has raised more than $100 million for diabetes research, education, and awareness. Barbara serves on the Boards of Trustees of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, among others. She received numerous awards, including: the 1992 Promise Ball Humanitarian Award from then-Juvenile Diabetes Foundation; an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of Colorado in 1995; and the 2004 Angel Award from JDRF in Los Angeles.
Laura Billetdeaux: a D-Mom in Michigan who in 2000 had the idea of taking a trip to Disneyworld in Florida with her family and inviting along other T1D families from the CWD (Children with Diabetes) online forum. With that, she established the annual Friends For Life conference that’s expanded and branched out in the years since, and has changed the lives of many in diabetes across the globe where both large and small events are held multiple times a year.
Nicole Johnson: crowned Miss America in 1999, she was the first woman to wear an insulin pump on stage, and in doing so became an inspirational force worldwide. She’s since earned her doctorate, used her journalism experience to co-host the D-Life TV show reaching millions, and has created organizations such as Students With Diabetes and the Diabetes Empowerment Foundation. She recently joined the JDRF as National Director of Mission, and has written several books relating to diabetes (including the most recent one she co-authored last year focused on spouses and loved ones).
Dr. Anne Peters: professor of medicine and director of the USC Clinical Diabetes Programs. She’s a nationally and internationally respected diabetologist who treats a spectrum of patients, from the Hollywood elite to the underserved who populate her free diabetes clinic in East Los Angeles. At her research center in East LA, she works with her team to prevent diabetes in the surrounding communities. Her research has been published all manner of leading medical journals and she’s a book author and frequent speaker as well. Her name seems to be everywhere in the diabetes world these days.
Dr. Denise Faustman: a physician and researcher at Harvard University and Director of the Immunobiology Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, who’s become a controversial figure with her unorthodox approach to seeking a diabetes cure. Her research team “cured” laboratory mice of T1D with a 40-day course of injections with a drug called CFA, which she strives to reproduce and scale. Despite naysayers, her work has sparked a wave of hope across the diabetes community. There is no certainty that her approach will pan out and it will be years before the ongoing Phase II can be judged, but however it plays out there’s no doubt she’s certainly made a dent in diabetes history with her efforts.
Dr. Karen Talmadge: an award-winning entrepreneur, executive and scientist in the biomedical industry who has a daughter with T1D. She oversaw a biotechnology research team pursuing novel treatments for diabetes from 1987-1990. She is currently serving as serving as Chair of the American Diabetes Association and sits on the Board of Directors for Bigfoot Biomedical.
DOC (Diabetes Online Community) Female Powerhouses:
Brandy Barnes, Kelly Close, Christina Roth, Cherise Shockley, Kerri Morrone Sparling, and our own Amy Tenderich. All of these ladies have made it their lives’ missions to advocate for PWDs, and have played key roles in shaping the way diabetes is seen and the future of care. As they shared their stories online and connected our D-Community, and then influenced the diabetes universe for the better on peer support, college networking, industry and regulatory collaboration, and patient engagement, we’ve all seen an impact — even those who are not online, reap benefits of what these ladies have done. They continue to change our world through building bridges to industry, engaging the FDA, and changing the face of diabetes peer support and connections both online and offline.
Thank you, to these and the many other hard-working and influential Women of Diabetes, who’ve devoted their lives to making a difference for our community!