I’ll put a different oar in the water on this one. I don’t think there is a massive Pharma conspiracy against diabetes cures, and I don’t think it’s just a matter of public interest or funding. The fundamental issue is that we (I’m speaking as a biological scientist here) don’t really understand complex biological systems in enough detail to cure almost any kind of disease, but especially those in which the underlying mechanism involves genetic susceptibility or cause.
The last great round of “cures” you reference came about because of the concept of vaccination, and those aren’t actually cures either. Vaccinations are fundamentally prophylactic in nature, and they don’t offer 1-treatment universal resistance, either. With enough diligence (Smallpox), a disease can be wiped out at the population level, but even polio still persists in at least two countries (and likely a few more) now. And if someone does contract Polio, the vaccine doesn’t cure them. We don’t have cures for Poliomyelitis or Smallpox vaccines (or a host of other viruses). And what I would consider the last great discovery firmly in the “cure” category, the antibiotic medications and substances, are now turning out to have some pretty awful side-effects, at least in the way we’ve implemented them in modern medical practice.
As for diabetes (of any type except physically-induced T1 or strictly genetic MODY and MIDD), all the evidence so far points to both genetic and environmental factors. And, unfortunately, it’s not the “environmental factors” side which is the most important in terms of finding a cure. Understanding the viruses or stress events or inflammation that trigger Type 1 onset, even if that is developed soon, doesn’t get us closer to a cure for a very simple reason: we don’t currently have any good, reliable way to actually alter gene expression in a living person without doing enormous amounts of non-target damage. So even if we did understand all the genes implicated in all the sub-varieties of T1, we don’t even have a class of actual medications that can target the underlying issue (unlike with antibiotics): gene therapy is speculative and exciting, but nowhere near a reality at this point in any kind of practical way.
Research into the viral and environmental triggers might help us with population-level prophylaxis (as with Polio). That is certainly where the Type 2 research has gone: we can’t cure that either, but we can make suggestions at the population level on exercise and diet standards that can protect some of those people who have the genes that predispose towards Type 2. MODY, MIDD, and the strictly genetic diabetes are a whole different kettle of fish: again, these don’t have environmental triggers, so prevention isn’t possible; but we don’t have gene therapy treatments to treat the underlying disorder (which would require changing actual genetic sequences on the fly).
Back to Type 1: I think the best we can realistically hope for, given the kinds of medical science and treatments we currently have, is that we can develop very effective treatments for diabetes. Hopefully, we can get to some point where a combination of medication and technology means we can help our bodies to self-regulate insulin and other hormones so that we aren’t constantly having to sugar-surf (because, fundamentally, we all surf sugars for a living at this point). But I don’t think we’ll have a pill or a course of treatment involving a limited amount of time that will somehow “fix” our bodies so that beta-cells regenerate, autoimmune attacks stop completely, and we happily revert to being “non diabetic.”
tl;dr: Medical science lacks the ability to cure almost any disease, in reality (other than non-resistant bacterial diseases). We have gotten quite good at prevention and treatment, and I suspect given the nature of Type 1 that this is the best we can expect anytime in the near future. To have a cure for T1, T2, or even MODY/MIDD, we have to have two things which we don’t currently have: a precise understanding of which genes are involved in the disease and why expression causes the disease; a type of treatment which can change gene expression in a targeted manner in patients without causing catastrophic effects on other systems. Currently, we have neither the genetic understanding or gene therapies that can “fix” the underlying problem. Sadly, this means no cure. At all, or at least not in any reasonable time frame (hundreds of years at our current rate of progress).
That’s just my opinion as someone who does research in biology (but is not a medical doctor or pharmaceutical researcher). And I hope I’m wrong, but I’m with Terry on this one: for now, we’d be much better off focusing on better treatments for all types of diabetes and on ways to reduce onset and effects of complications. As for the “technology can do anything imagined by science fiction” argument…while we certainly do have high-capacity computers, we don’t have flying cars, faster than light travel, or the ability to choose offspring traits from a touchscreen device. We probably will have flying cars (or something similar) at some point, although I suspect they won’t be common (for air-traffic control reasons), but we aren’t likely to ever have FTL or “Choose-a-Spawn” technology: there are things we won’t have the ability to change even with knowledge and technology, and I fear genetic expression _in a living organism_is one of them.