Diabetes expert Francine Kaufman makes managing the disease as tasty as peanut butter and as easy as child’s play.
FOR YEARS, BARBARA AVERILL suffered nightly blood-sugar drops so severe they threatened to plunge her into a diabetic coma while she slept. She would wake herself up three times a night to test her blood and nibble on the candy, graham crackers and orange juice she kept handy on her nightstand.
Nowadays Averill sleeps through the night – thanks to a medical food supplement designed to help Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients maintain a more stable blood-sugar level, especially overnight.
The food bar was created by Francine Kaufman, professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and head of endocrinology at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. Kaufman formulated uncooked cornstarch, which usually has an unpleasant flavor, into a tasty 140-calorie, low-fat bar. Uncooked cornstarch is a complex carbohydrate that triggers gradual and consistent absorption of glucose by the body, essential for good health. While most carbohydrates are completely absorbed within three hours, Kaufman’s bar can take as long as nine hours to absorb, assuring a steady supply of glucose.

Francine Kaufman checks 7-year-old patient John Hagy’s insulin pump during a visit at USC-affiliated Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

A few years ago, in a study at a summer camp for teenage and young adult patients, Kaufman showed that the cornstarch bar cut hypoglycemic events (attacks of low blood-sugar) by as much as 78 percent. Thanks to its slow release of starches, the bar also has proved to be an effective appetite suppressant. Her patented Extendbar is available in chocolate and peanut butter flavors and sells over the counter for about $1.
“The positive response has been overwhelming,” Kaufman says. “I’ve spent my life in academic medicine, and it feels pretty good when you realize where your contribution can be made.”
Extendbar isn’t Kaufman’s only practical help for those coping with diabetes. Two years ago, she created a CD-ROM game to dispel some of the fear that children with Type 1 diabetes feel.
“Imagine being 5, having your finger poked eight times a day and taking an injection every time your blood sugar is elevated, which may be several times a day,” says Kaufman. “It’s tremendously complicated; they’ve got to understand that interplay between food and insulin and activity.”
Called Life Adventure Series, the game has players helping an alien named Xylo make his way back to his home planet. Kids earn points for Xylo, voiced by actor Martin Short, by managing their own diabetes during the day.
“If I could go home with my patients every day, I could make a difference,” Kaufman said. “This game is something that can go home with them.”
Kaufman collaborated on the CD-ROM with Steven Spielberg’s Starbright Foundation and with the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, which provided funds. Life Adventure Series, available in Spanish and English, is free to children with diabetes (800-315-2580).

– Jon Nalick and Mary Ellen Stumpfl

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Keck School of Medicine

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