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Answer Man: ‘Manhattan Project’ for diabetes cure failed to launch

October 10, 2017 GMT

Dear Mr. Likeable, it seems to me that around 2010, Mayo and the University of Minnesota announced they were going to find a cure for diabetes. How is this panning out? Thanks so much. — Gregor Guttentag

Congratulations, Gregor -- I’ve never been called Mr. Likeable before, though it’s so true.

Gregor is absolutely correct that Mayo and the U of M announced in 2010 that they would launch an all-out assault on diabetes. As part of what was called the Decade of Discovery, they announced they’d pursue up to $350 million over 10 years to fund research, develop and market new technologies, and push public health initiatives to treat and potentially cure diabetes.

There were others identified as involved in the effort, including Vance Opperman, president and CEO of Key Investments and one of Minnesota’s best-connected investors, and former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz. Dr. Robert Rizza of Mayo called it “Minnesota’s Manhattan Project.”

In my humble opinion, one should always be skeptical when a project is described as “a Manhattan project” or a “moon shot,” such as Vice President Joe Biden’s one-year campaign to find cures for cancer. In just about all cases, they promise more than they deliver.

In any case, since that announcement in 2010, I’m hard-pressed to find any bombshells about the “Manhattan project” for diabetes. By 2013, the “Decade of Discovery” effort was folded into the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics, which was formed in 2003 as a research partnership between Mayo, the U of M and the state.

The announcement in 2013 said, “Leaders at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic remain strongly committed to their shared emphasis on diabetes research,” but that the “vision for the Decade was impacted by significant budget constraints, both at the state and federal levels, making it increasingly important to focus on retaining existing research dollars.

“As budgets for scientific research grew more constrained, it became increasingly difficult to pursue necessary support for the Decade of Discovery as a standalone initiative.”

So that was pretty much it for the “Manhattan Project,” though certainly there’s important work going on that doesn’t get headlines, and I’ll happily catalog the progress if researchers care to share.

I checked with Mayo on the reader’s question and Bob Nellis, a senior communications consultant at the World Famous, said this by email: “The Minnesota Partnership continues to do research into studies related to diabetes and obesity, as does each respective institution. It is simply not called out in a specific program. Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota remain leaders in diabetes research.”

Dear Answer Man, have you seen the ads and billboards for “buzzed driving”? They say “buzzed driving is drunk driving.” What is that really saying? How is buzzed driving different from drunk driving?

It’s not. If you’re “buzzed,” meaning impaired by alcohol or any other substance, you shouldn’t be driving. A Minneapolis attorney puts it well on his website: “These days, young people have started to use the term ‘buzzed’ to mean a state of intoxication that, in their own minds, doesn’t necessarily amount to full-on ‘drunk.’ A consequence of this has been that some young people think they’re ‘just buzzed’ when they are, in fact, over the 0.08 limit.”

And as the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety says, “Minnesota’s legal alcohol-concentration driving limit is 0.08 — but motorists can be arrested for DWI at lower levels,” or when driving under the influence of any controlled substance.

Buzzed driving is drunk driving.