Vital steps

Research brings answers for next generation

Amie Filkow - 09 May 2019

After living with diabetes for 29 years, Colin Blanch (with son Fletcher) may soon be able to avoid continually monitoring his blood glucose levels, thanks to donor-funded research at the U of A.

Val and Morley Blanch remember getting the devastating news. Their seven-year-old son, Colin, had been unwell for days. Answers came with an intense stay in an Edmonton hospital: Colin had diabetes. Life for him and his parents would never be the same.

Young Colin had to learn how to monitor and adjust his blood sugar levels. Val had to learn the nutritional content of everything she put on the table. "We learned to live on the edge," says Morley, recalling the unpredictability of Colin's blood-sugar "lows." "We were always prepared for the worst-case scenario."

But Colin never let his diabetes restrict his experiences, despite his parents' apprehensions. The day a 17-year-old Colin left for a year-long student exchange program in Australia, Val looked at Morley and wondered, "What have we done?"

Donors Val and Morley Blanch give to research in hope of a diabetes cure - whether for their son Colin, for their grandchildren who may be at risk, or for someone else in the same situation.

Diabetes, in which the body either does not produce insulin or doesn't properly adjust sugar and insulin levels, impacts 3.4 million Canadian adults and more than 33,000 children. Another 5.7 million people are considered pre-diabetic. One in 10 deaths in Canada can be attributed to the disease.

As Colin, '06 BCom, determined to live his life, his parents determined to help researchers find a cure. Ten years ago, Val, '73 BA, '78 BCom, and Morley, '73 BSc, '81 MAg, created a fellowship at the U of A's Alberta Diabetes Institute (ADI) to fund one graduate student trainee in diabetes research each year. These students work with the world-leading team that developed Canada's first islet cell transplant process, known as the Edmonton Protocol.

The Blanches choose to support students because they are the researchers of tomorrow. "If we really want a cure, we need investment in people, equipment and resources," says Peter Light, director of the institute and the Dr. Charles A. Allard Chair in Diabetes Research. "Val and Morley's gift is vital to this goal."

Since Colin was diagnosed in 1990, huge strides have been made at the U of A toward understanding and controlling Type 1 diabetes, says Light. "We're working toward a treatment where patients don't have to worry about continually monitoring their blood glucose levels or waking up with extremely low blood sugar levels."

Colin is now an adult with a family of his own, including two little boys who may be at greater risk of developing diabetes. Val and Morley remain hopeful for a cure. "Donating to research is our way of trying to have a larger impact," says Morley. "That's what drives us."