• By: Anne Dion

Revolutions in Diabetes: A Look Inside Yesterday’s Conference on the Disability Tax Credit

This passed month was National Diabetes Awareness month, an important time for hundreds of Canadians and an exciting opportunity for making change. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) has been involved in funding nearly every major scientific breakthrough in Type 1 Diabetes research, and is one of the loudest voices for Canadians living with Type 1 Diabetes. Yesterday the JDRF and Diabetes Canada held a conference to update Canadians on an issue that has been affecting hundreds of people across the country.

President and CEO of the JDRF, Dave Prowten

We talked to President and CEO of the JDRF, Dave Prowten, about the conference as well as the most recent work being done regarding the auto-immune disease. Looking back over the passed month, Prowten explains what their focus has been:

“We had a ‘lets get loud’ concept this month and we really wanted to get people to start sharing their stories about what life is like with Type 1 Diabetes. In some instances it can be a very isolating disease, people just do not understand how difficult it is to live with. But knowing that there’s someone else out there like you can really help. So we’re trying to create that community feel, and social media’s been a great vehicle for people to do that.”

A large part of the JDRF’s work, during the month of November as well as year round, involves dispelling the common misconceptions about the disease:

“When people hear the word Diabetes, they often assume Type 1 and Type 2 are the same” begins Prowten. “Type 1 is an auto-immune condition, meaning that your body has attacked itself and you’re no longer able to produce insulin. Type 2 is more related to lifestyle. With Type 1, from the moment of diagnosis you are insulin dependent, meaning you have to manage your blood sugars incredibly well to avoid highs and lows and to avoid complications. And with Type 2, you can typically manage it with lifestyle adaptations (except in severe cases in which medication is needed or insulin-dependency can develop).”

“A second myth is that the disease only affects children” he continues. “More and more adults are now getting diagnosed with Type 1, and it seems as though there are more and more auto-immune conditions in the world.”

The Disability Tax Credit and How it’s Affected Canadians

The JDRF and Diabetes Canada held a joint conference in Ottawa yesterday to discuss updates on the recent changes made to Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA’s) evaluation of Disability Tax Credit applications — a shift that has been negatively affecting hundreds of Canadians.

In May of this year, the JDRF began to hear of more and more people being denied the Disability Tax Credit. Many of the concerned people were in fact re-applying. Since Type 1 Diabetes doesn’t get any better over time, the concept that this tax credit only lasts for a prescribed amount of time and must be renewed, is in and of itself an odd one. After investigating, the JDRF and Diabetes Canada found that, under the category of Life Sustaining Therapy (into which insulin falls) someone may no longer qualify unless there are exceptional circumstances. That means that in order to qualify, people would have to have something on top of having Type 1 Diabetes.

“We had meetings over the course of several months, and Diabetes Canada put in an Access to Information Request and about two weeks ago secured within that package an internal memo from the CRA outlining the changes that were made. I would say that this is proof that new direction was given to the people evaluating the applications.

After getting proof of the change through an Access to Information Request, the JDRF and Diabetes Canada took the memo to the Minister of Revenue.

“We gave her that memo in a meeting last week,” explains Prowten, “We wanted to make sure that she had that memo, and we offered some pretty straight-forward solutions which would rescind the new direction of the CRA.” The Minister of Revenue, The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, has since re-established a Disability Advisory Committee (something that had been dissolved about a decade ago). Although Prowten stated the support the JDRF will give the new Committee, he continues to say that, “In the short term, however, given that all these people are being denied, we would like those new instructions to be rescinded so that people can be evaluated as they have historically been evaluated.”

The New and Exciting Directions in Diabetes Research

The JDRF has been one of Canada’s major forces helping Diabetes research since it’s conception in 1974. We asked Dave Prowten about the exciting forms and directions that research is currently taking:

“There are really two very interesting research fronts right now. One is using technology to manage your disease more effectively: so things like insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors. When people use those, they can keep their blood sugar in a tighter range. They help you to be more involved in your disease management, and ideally mean that you can avoid certain long term complications. These are tremendous devices that are offering people a different way to approach managing their disease.”

Another exciting avenue of research is, of course, stem cells: “Our goal is to find a way to give people insulin production back” Prowten explains. “There’s actually a clinical trial going on in Edmonton right now.” Researchers have developed a pouch like a tea bag that contains stem cells trained to produce insulin. The membrane of the pouch is designed to protect these insulin-producers from the body’s cells which, due to the auto-immune condition, will attack once they sense insulin production.

“What’s really remarkable is that this is now being tested in humans — it’s moved out of the labs and a clinical trial is underway” says Prowten. As in all trials, there is still a great deal of work to be done. But as Prowen explains, the goal is an exciting one: “one in which people could in essence have freedom from Diabetes.”

Visit the JDRF website for more information and to get involved!