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Celebrities ask for more diabetes research funds

Tessa Wick, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in 1999
Tessa Wick, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in 1999, encouraged the Senate panel to support stem cell research  

(CNN) -- Facing a panel of U.S. senators, 10-year-old Tessa Wick made it plain. "Is the life of one child less important than a cell the size of a dot?" she asked.

Her plea to fund stem cell research to find a cure for juvenile diabetes, the disease from which she suffers, was direct and short.

Two hundred other children and a handful of celebrities joined Wick Tuesday morning at a hearing on juvenile, or Type 1, diabetes. The requests -- whether coming from unknown children or well-known adults -- was the same: Dedicate more money to finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

Caithlin Madigan is a teenager who has been diabetic since age 5. CNN's Rea Blakey finds out how difficult insulin-dependent life can be (June 26)

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Last year Congress appropriated $240 million for diabetes research, and the panel participants said they were there to remind politicians that the need has not diminished.

The disease afflicts 16 million Americans and strikes about 35 children each day.

Astronaut James Lovell, commander of the aborted Apollo 13 mission, also testified about his adult son's struggle with juvenile diabetes. "Diabetes accounts for $105 billion in health care costs and 25 percent of Medicare expenditures," he said. "Diabetes research is a worthwhile investment."

Type 1 diabetes is characterized by the pancreas' inability to make sufficient insulin, a hormone that metabolizes carbohydrates and regulates blood sugar levels.

Mary Tyler Moore
Mary Tyler Moore testified before a Senate panel Tuesday about her battle with juvenile diabetes and the need for increased government funding for research  

Without controlled levels of insulin, blood sugar can drop too low, sending a person into a coma. Sustained elevated blood sugars can lead to damage of major organs such as the kidney and heart. The disease also puts people at risk for blindness and amputations, resulting from wounds on extremities that might not heal. Doctors say the disease shortens a Type 1 diabetic's life by about 15 years.

Actress Mary Tyler Moore tearfully recounted the death of a friend's 31-year-old daughter who died on an airplane while en route to a hospital for a kidney transplant. The young woman died in her mother's arms, Moore said, at 30,000 feet.

Moore spoke of two possible sources of insulin-producing islet cells -- cadaver pancreases and stem cells. But only about 2,000 cadaver pancreases are available each year, Moore said, while through embryonic stem cell research, "an inexhaustible supply of islet cells could be created," because stem cells can be coaxed into maturing into any type of cell.

Moore encouraged the senators to respect the wishes of young couples who might want to donate unused fertilized eggs, which she said would otherwise be destroyed.

Jonathan Lipnicki
Jonathan Lipnicki, 10, spoke at the hearing about the challenges faced by his friend Tessa Wick, who suffers from juvenile diabetes  

Actors Kevin Kline and Jonathan Lipnicki testified about the experiences of young friends who have the disease and how it affects their lives and daily routines.

Kline recounted the story of a 13-year-old friend who must prick her fingers several times during the day to draw blood samples to test sugar levels.

Lipnicki, who appeared in the movie "Jerry Maguire," said his friend, Tessa Wick, had endured 4,563 pricks and 2,738 insulin shots since her diagnosis two years ago.

"It's not fun," Lipnicki said. "They don't have the same chances to live long, healthy lives."

• Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
• WebMD: Diabetes

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