Sansum Diabetes Research Institute celebrates 75th anniversary
When William David Sansum wasn’t fishing or knitting socks for friends, he was driving to cattle slaughterhouses in Goleta and Los Angeles.
He went there to collect fresh pancreas glands.
The pioneer in diabetes research brought them back to his Santa Barbara laboratory to create insulin.
“From everything I read about him, he was a visionary,” Ellen Goodstein, executive director of the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, recently told the News-Press as she discussed the nonprofit Dr. Sansum started in 1944.
More than 350 people attended the institute’s 75th anniversary gala in March at the Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort in Montecito, where $400,000-plus was raised.
“The feeling in the room was just magnetic,” Ms. Goodstein said. “It was a love fest.”
“From the beginnings with Dr. Sansum to where we are today, we are still doing cutting-edge research,” Ms. Goodstein said.
In 1920, Dr. Sansum, an endocrinologist, came on the train and moved to Santa Barbara from Chicago after being recruited to succeed the late Nathaniel Bowditch Potter as the head of the Potter Metabolic Clinic, based at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
Two years later, Dr. Sansum became the first American physician to manufacture insulin and administer it to a patient with diabetes: Charles Cowan, 51, who was previously diagnosed as terminally ill.
With regular insulin injections, Mr. Cowan, a citrus grower from Anaheim, lived to 90.
People with diabetes converged in Santa Barbara for Dr. Sansum’s care. Because there were limited supplies of insulin, Dr. Sansum manufactured it himself.
In 1944, Dr. Sansum went a step further and started the Sansum Medical Research Foundation, which evolved into today’s Sansum Diabetes Research Institute. (There’s no relationship between the institute and Sansum Clinic, which resulted from a merger of Santa Barbara Medical Foundation Clinic and Sansum Medical Clinic, which Dr. Sansum started.)
“He was very much affected by seeing people die around him from this disease (diabetes),” Ms. Goodstein said. “And he wanted to do something about it. Early on, they were working on insulin.”
After Dr. Sansum died in 1948, Dr. Hildahl Burtness, an internist and diabetes specialist, succeeded him and served as the foundation president.
In 1966, the institute’s current Bath Street laboratory and offices were opened.
In 1986, Dr. Lois Jovanovic, the pioneer known for her research showing for the first time that women with diabetes could have successful pregnancies, joined the institute.
Ten years later, Dr. Jovanovic was appointed the institute’s CEO and chief scientific officer and served in those roles until she retired in 2013.
Dr. Jovanovic, who died in September, was honored during a celebration of life in November at Congregation B’nai Brith in Santa Barbara.
“She developed the protocols that told doctors how to care for women with diabetes in pregnancy,” Ms. Goodstein said.
In 2000, the foundation became the primary U.S. site to conduct research on implanted glucose sensors and insulin pumps.
In 2003, the foundation changed its name to Sansum Diabetes Research Institute.
In 2004, the first U.S. patent was issued for the algorithm used in automated glucose control — also known as the artificial pancreas.
Dr. Goodstein said Dr. Jovanovic worked on studies for the artificial pancreas, which has involved the institute for more than a decade.
Dr. Jordan Pinsker, the institute’s director of artificial pancreas technology, told the News-Press that the artificial pancreas consists of three external components: a pump to deliver insulin, a monitor that continuously monitors blood sugar and a computer to determine the amount of insulin.
Dr. Pinsker said the algorithms developed and tested in part at the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute contributed to the Insulet OmniPod artificial pancreas system. He pointed to the institute’s long partnership in that work with UCSB and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Now on the market is Medtronic’s MiniMed 670G Insulin Pump, the first FDA-approved product to use the features of an artificial pancreas.
“Our research is now focusing on the next level, what I call artificial pancreas 2.0,” Dr. Pinsker said.
He explained Sansum Diabetes Research Institute is working with Harvard University, the Mayo Clinic and others on considering factors such as stress, exercise and the right amount of insulin for different kinds of meals. “I think we’ll see gradual improvements in these products over the next five years.”
In addition to research, the institute has emphasized education.
In 2005, the institute began Ocho Pasos a lo Buena Salud (Eight Steps to Good Health), a Spanish-language diabetes self-management education support series. Ms. Goodstein said the program led to improvements in factors such as blood pressure and the patients’ A1C tests, used to measure blood glucose.
It became the model for all of the institute’s education programs, which involve registered dietitians, nutritionists and certified diabetes educators.
“Diet and exercise can make a big difference,” Ms. Goodstein said.
“We teach diabetes management in both English and Spanish,” she said. “Studies have shown that if you have type 2 diabetes, there’s a lot you can to do to either reverse it or limit the complications one might experience over time. Diabetes is closely related to complications such as cardiovascular illness, stroke, blindness, kidney disease or amputations.”
In 2016, the institute started collaboration with the Diabetes Technology Society to develop digital health technology in diabetes care.
In 2017, the institute played a key role in efforts for the first FDA-approved glucose monitor that doesn’t require finger sticks.
That year, the nonprofit also started Mil Familias, a 10-year initiative to study the reason for a high incidence of diabetes among Latinos — double or more that of the general population. The program is also looking at ways to reduce complications, Ms. Goodstein said.
“We are enrolling 1,000 Latino families where one person has diabetes,” she said.
In 2018, the institute started Farming for Life, a program in which 23 people with type 2 diabetes were given a prescription for vegetables at the Unity Shoppe. Ms. Goodstein said improvements were seen in the A1C tests and blood pressure.
This year, the institute is collaborating with Harvard on the first Artificial Pancreas and Pregnancy Study.
Ms. Goodstein said the institute’s goals include attracting more pediatric endocrinologists to Santa Barbara so families with children with type 1 diabetes don’t have to drive to Los Angeles.
“We also want to expand our education to reach more people,” she said. “Through education, we can get a handle on type 2 diabetes.”
For more information, call the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute at 682-7638 or go to www.sansum.org