Sunday Brunch: diabetes, fertiliser and Jurassic Park

Sunday Brunch: diabetes, fertiliser and Jurassic Park

When resources are scarce we may need to prioritise their use. So even if we can, maybe we shouldn't.

In the 1993 film Jurassic Park, chaos theory expert Dr Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) launches into a tirade against the park owner, John Hammond (played by the late Richard Attenborough) ending with this iconic line:

"... your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Subsequent films in the Jurassic Park series would tend to support the concerns of Dr. Malcolm. Bring dinosaurs back to life? People died. Mix up the DNA of dinosaurs to create new more terrifying dinosaurs? People died. There are sometimes generally accepted 'moral absolutes' - you know what, we just shouldn't really do that.

But things can also be a bit more nuanced. As well as new technology being developed to help us live more sustainably, existing technology could also be adapted for new uses. However even if we can apply a technology or solution to multiple uses, we may need to prioritise as resources may be scarce. And that prioritisation can result in a use case not being addressed by that solution.

Hydrogen is a good example of that, but let's start by looking at an example in the healthcare space, how the drug semaglutide, developed to treat type 2 diabetes, has recently been adapted and heralded as a weight loss drug and in the process created a global shortage.

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Diabetes, weight management and semaglutide

When the food you eat is digested into glucose and enters your bloodstream (called 'blood sugar'), a hormone called insulin, which is produced in your pancreas, moves that glucose out of the blood and into cells, where it's broken down to produce energy.

However, if you have diabetes, your body is unable to break down glucose into energy, because there's either not enough insulin to move the glucose, or the insulin produced doesn't work properly.

There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1: the pancreas doesn't make any insulin because your immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that would normally make it.
  • Type 2: the pancreas makes less insulin than normal and you become resistant to it. i.e. you have insulin, but you stop being able to use it.

A study published in June 2023 in The Lancet estimates that 529 million people worldwide had diabetes in 2021 resulting in healthcare expenditures of approximately US$966 billion in that year.

I'll focus on type 2 which accounted for 96% of all diabetes cases globally in 2021.

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