UF advocate in the fight against diabetes speaks to congressional panel

Ten-year-old Cassidy O’Neill has Type 1 diabetes, but she isn’t the only one in her family fighting for a cure. She, her mother and brother have all taken part in studies at the University of Florida to understand more about the disease, efforts they hope will one day lead to better treatments or even a cure.

Now, Cassidy’s mother, Anastasia Albanese-O’Neill, R.N., has taken their cause to the next level.

On September 22, 2011, she spoke about the importance of National Institutes of Health-funded diabetes research and its effects on patients and families at a congressional briefing in Washington D.C.

In the coming weeks, congressional leaders will look at ways to reduce federal spending. The panel, sponsored by agencies such as the American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association, sought to raise awareness about the importance of continuing to fund the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases for research on diabetes, which affects more than 26 million children and adults in the United States, some of whom are unaware they have the disease.

“My goal was to put a human face on research,” said O’Neill, a consultant for the UF Diabetes Center of Excellence in the College of Medicine. “I talked about what research means to our family, and to the millions of others who live with diabetes. Without research, there is no hope for a cure, there is no hope for prevention, and there is no hope for better treatments. Diabetes is an epidemic in this country. If we don’t do something now, we will have to do something later, and it will be more costly in both human and monetary terms.”

Albanese-O’Neill was one of three panelists at the session, called “Advancing Discovery: The Role of NIH Research in Fighting the Diabetes Epidemic.” The briefing was sponsored by the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association, among others.

Other panelists included Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and Rena R. Wing, Ph.D., a professor at Brown University.

In addition to the 26 million Americans who have the disease, 79 million are at risk, according to the American Diabetes Association.

“If left unaddressed, diabetes will overwhelm the health care system with tragic consequences,” said Albanese-O’Neill in a statement released by the American Diabetes Association. “To change this future, we need to increase our commitment to NIDDK in a way that reflects the burden diabetes poses both for us and for our children. My family has been honored to be a part of clinical trials that could one day lead to ensuring that families like mine can prevent other children from developing this devastating disease.”