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Joslin Awards First 80-Year Medal to Spencer Wallace, Diagnosed in 1931

National Gathering of Joslin Medalists Hears Update on Joslin’s 50-Year Medalist Study

Friday, May 17, 2013

In a ceremony this past Saturday,  Joslin Diabetes Center awarded Spencer M. Wallace, Jr. of Fayetteville, NY, the first Joslin Medal for living for 80 years with insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes.  Mr. Wallace was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 8 and has lived with diabetes for 82 years.

Watch video coverage and interviews from the Medalist Celebration.

The Joslin Medalist program has existed in some form since Dr. Elliott. P. Joslin began awarding 25-year Victory Medals in 1948 for people who had lived for 25 years with Type 1 diabetes. In 1970 Joslin Diabetes Center awarded the first 50-year medal, with a 75-Year medal following in 1996. Since the program's inception, more than 2,500 50-Year medals have been awarded, as well as more than 50 75-Year medals.  Mr. Wallace is the first person to receive the new 80-Year Medal.

The Medal was presented by George King, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer at Joslin during the 5th 50-Year Medalist Celebration, held in Brookline, MA, a biennial gathering to honor 50-Year and 75-Year Medalists from across the United States and Canada.

“It's really a tremendous accomplishment,  knowing that many years ago the technology wasn't as advanced as it is now, insulin wasn't as advanced as it is,” noted  John L. Brooks III, President and CEO of Joslin Diabetes Center. “But yet these folks have done a great job really managing and really conquering their diabetes."

Dr. King also delivered a report on the progress of Joslin’s 50-Year Medalist Study.  The study began in 2005 and aims to understand why certain people who have had type 1 diabetes for 50 or more years do not develop the serious complications usually associated with the disease. 

“From a complications point of view, these findings are very exciting since they showed that 40 percent of the Medalists have factors or genes, which are protecting the Medalists from developing diabetic eye disease,” according to the Medalist web page. 

Data from over 500 people have been analyzed and have led to very exciting discoveries.  These new findings have shown that most Medalists have clinical and laboratory findings consistent with “typical” type 1 diabetes.  This includes genetic factors as well as other clinical characteristics, such as weight, high good cholesterol levels and relatively low body weight.

The eye studies, which took pictures of the back of the eye, showed that about 40 percent of the Medalists do not have serious eye disease even after 50 to 80 years of type 1 diabetes. Separate studies showed that less than 10 percent of the Medalists have any kidney problems.  From a complications point of view, these exciting findings show that 40 percent of the Medalists have protective factors or genes, which Joslin researchers on the Medalist study are working to uncover. When the precise genes or combinations of genes are found, they have the potential to serve as complications treatments for other people with type 1 diabetes. 

In addition to the findings regarding complications, the results from the Medalists have also yielded an unexpected finding regarding pancreatic functions.  Surprisingly, over 66 percent of Medalists appear to continue to produce some insulin, suggesting some type 1 diabetic patients may still make insulin even after 50 years of diabetes.  These findings have been confirmed through metabolic and post-mortem studies.  This raises the possibility that many type 1 diabetes patients have protection from beta-cell destruction.  

While results so far have been promising, more participants are needed to complete the picture of how 50-Year Medalists are able to defy the odds remaining free of complications and retaining some insulin production.

Hillary Keenan, Ph.D., co-Prinicipal Investigator for the 50-Year Medalist Study, points out, “What we’re seeing, particularly in eye disease and in kidney disease – people are not destined to develop these complications.  This is what’s changing the field of diabetes.”

The Medalist Study, Dr. King added, “exemplifies what Joslin can do.  The payback is that it allows us to have all this wonderful information, and allows us to accomplish our mission – which is to find new treatments and even cures.”


2013 Joslin Medalist Celebration

Page last updated: January 21, 2019