THE BLOG

Imagine a World Without Diabetes

12/23/2012 06:30 pm ET | Updated Feb 22, 2013

I faced some tough opponents throughout my career in the boxing ring. It took the perfect combination of punches, resilience and an enduring commitment to become a champion. Today, the U.S. is facing a hard-hitting opponent of its own -- diabetes. This disease is testing our nation and could deliver an economic body blow if we fail to act now.

That is why Congress must renew the Special Diabetes Program (SDP) for multiple years. Because of the SDP, scientists and researchers have made significant progress in understanding diabetes and are helping us envision a world where there are not only better ways to treat this disease but also ways to cure and even prevent it.

Since 1997, the SDP -- administered by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) -- has funded several large-scale, long-term research projects that are giving more hope than ever before that we are on the verge of dramatically improved therapies for diabetes, and even a future where a cure is possible. The SDP has always been renewed well in advance of its expiration. A multi-year SDP funding extension this year would ensure continuing progress in the fight against diabetes - at a time when we are on the cusp of significant breakthroughs -- by eliminating the disruptive effects of funding uncertainty. Researchers will continue the work that has advanced exciting technologies, such as the artificial pancreas, and we will see the development of many new treatments that help improve the lives of those living with diabetes.

I know all too well what it feels like when diabetes is out of control. Throughout my amateur career, I watched my father struggle to control his diabetes. As the medical bills piled up due to diabetic complications, I knew I had to do something. My decision to enter professional boxing was based in large part on the desire to help my family shoulder the costs of my father's diabetes care. Today, 26 million Americans, their families and their friends know what I went through as I watched my father. They must live with the disease, help their loved one manage it or worry about a loved one.

Our country is already shouldering a huge burden. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness in adults andamputations unrelated to injuries. It's a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke, and contributes to more than 230,000 deaths a year. Making matters worse, between 2001 and 2009, diabetes rose by more than 20 percent among our youth. If we don't do something now, the prevalence of diabetes will double for every future generation.

My father saw mounting medical costs because of diabetes, and it is no different for our country. In 2007 alone, the U.S. spent an estimated $174 billion on diabetes. And if we continue to let diabetes win, health costs can be expected to triple in the next 25 years.

Yet, for $150 million -- just one tenth of one percent of the annual cost of treating this disease -- the SDP is helping to find ways to treat it, cure it or prevent diabetes. One way is through a creation I mentioned earlier, an artificial pancreas, a device whose development has been accelerated by the SDP. According to a recent study, an artificial pancreas, which would help people manage their blood sugar levels and reduce medical complications, would save Medicare over $1 billion over 25 years.

We must push forward in our fight against diabetes, winning rounds to build on the SDP's momentum and help bring to fruition the years of hard work and dedication that make an end to this disease foreseeable. Congress should pass long-term SDP funding now, so we can knock out diabetes once and for all and realize our dream of a world without diabetes.