I just returned from the yearly Friends for Life conference in Orlando, FL, where thousands of people from the Diabetes Community gather each July to connect, learn and have fun.


We all had a blast shooting out updates via the hashtag #CWDFFL15 on Twitter, since there was so much to capture from this annual event that's one of the big three we try to attend every summer (in addition to the ADA Scientific Sessions and AADE annual meeting).

This was my second time attending FFL, the first being back in 2013 when my wife was able to join me. She wasn't able to make this trip, so I was there solo -- one of about 220 adults attending this family-friendly event now in its 16th year. It is hosted by the non-profit group Children With Diabetes, but make no mistake: It's not about just kids, there's a place for all of us in the D-Community, no matter or age or type.

The word from Ohio D-Dad and CWD founder Jeff Hitchock is that just about 2,000 people attended this year, with 10% of those being adult PWDs -- many of whom grew up with FFL through the years. 

The diabetes industry comes out en force too, and it was exciting to see many newsworthy announcements at a conference with so much direct access to people in the D-Community.

Here's what we captured our attention the most, from both the exhibit hall floor and the presentation sessions:




Introducing the iLet Bionic Pancreas

Researcher and D-Dad Ed Damiano unveiled the biggest news at FFL -- as he's done before and has become a sort of tradition each year. He anounced that his Boston University team's Bionic Pancreas project has now moved into the second phase of development with their first commercial prototype, a fully-integrated device known as the iLet. The name is of course a clever play on islet cells (in the pancreas that contain insulin-producing beta cells) and Apple's iPhone / iPad tech.

We've told the story of Damiano and the Bionic Pancreas before, but this is a whole new level of awesome!




Instead of the current platform made up of two insulin pumps and a Dexcom receiver connected to a phone controller, this iLet fully integrates all those pieces into one device.


Damiano iLetThe prototype displayed on the FFL exhibit hall floor was gold, symbolic of the "gold standard" the team hopes to achieve. It's slightly thicker than a current iPhone model, but Damiano and team say the next generation will shrink by a third, and future generations could get even smaller. He hopes to make it more compact and improve the touchscreen interface over the next nine months, getting it ready for a human factors testing version in 2016 that would use a special custom-designed infusion set.

It was also very cool to hear that the non-profit open data sharing group Tidepool is part of creating this integrated closed loop device, having helped develop the user interface!

We learned about this just as news hit that our friend Howard Look, CEO of Tidepool and a D-Dad himself, was recognized by the White House this past week as a Champion for Change in healthcare for all he's done on innovation for diabetes. Well deserved, and we love seeing Tidepool playing a key role in creating the iLet Bionic Pancreas (see also this 4-part series of blog posts about Tidepool's development of its interface).

I got to play with the iLet device, and found it felt not too different than handling my own Android phone now. It has two cartridge slots that will use pre-filled cartridges of insulin and glucagon, and the tubing will enter the body using 6 millimeter steel cannulas. The touchscreen menus allow you to dose insulin or glucagon, and enter meal amounts, from which the device will "learn" over time to help calculate your dosing needs. There isn't a traditional "carb count," but instead an optional meal announcement where you're basically estimating if the meal you're about to have is typical size or not in terms of carb content, to what you'd normally have at that time of day.

iLet Bionic Pancreas

There's also something called the G-Burst, a manual mini-dose of glucagon you could give yourself if needed -- like if you wish to disconnect for a bit during swimming when you might go low. Of course, the rest of the time you'd get automatic doses of that glucagon when you're hooked up to the iLet, based on your blood sugar readings.


During his presentation, Damiano showed this slide of the 16 U.S. clinical sites where research will be conducted for iLet in the coming years:



Damiano says he's hoping the iLet will be available commercially by the end of 2018, as the plan is to start pivotal studies by the beginning of 2017 and overlap those studies with the regulatory review process. A lot has to go right for that to happen, including the creation of a better stabile glucagon, but it's exciting to see so much progress on this front.

Exciting stuff!


And from TypeZero...

We were also thrilled to see a lot of discussion about other closed loop systems, including TypeZero Technologies that we featured exclusively in June. This startup is planning to commercialize the system developed by the University of Virginia (UVA) artificial pancreas research. Company CEO Chad Rogers spoke to a packed room of conference attendees about their plans and how they could even allow for Symlin (pramlintide, which delays gastric emptying) to eventually be included in their "In Control" system being developed.

Rogers posed intriguing questions about the future of AP devices, which got minds working about the challenges we have to tackle next, no matter which particular closed loop device we're talking about:



Tandem's Next-Gen Devices

Tandem Diabetes Care had some excitement going, with Miss America hopeful Sierra Sandison signing books on the exhibit hall floor (see our review from Monday, and make sure to enter the giveaway for a signed FFL copy of her book!). The California-based touchscreen insulin pump company also hosted an adult PWD event with an 80s theme on Friday night, and in its booth, Tandem was showing off its newest t:flex pump approved earlier this year, that holds a full 480 units of insulin. This was the first time we got to see the expanded pump up close and personal, with a bulge on the back where the larger cartridge is placed, but otherwise looking pretty much exactly like a regular t:slim.


Word from Tandem execs at FFL is they're hard at work on their next-gen device, the now so-called t:sport tubeless pump . It's in the early conceptual phase, we're told, but this t:sport (or whatever it's named when ready for prime time) will sport an entirely new look and be along the lines of tubeless OmniPod technology. Wow!

Here's what we learned about the t:sport concept in early 2014, during earnings calls and annual reports filed with regulators:

  • The t:sport will utilize the same t:slim technology to create a smaller, tubeless, waterproof patch pump
  • It's designed for people who want greater discretion and flexibility, no tubing, the ability to deliver insulin without touching the pump 
  • Tandem anticipates it will include a wireless, touchscreen controller, and a small, waterproof reservoire unit attachable to the skin (like the "pod")

Very cool to hear that someone may finally be offering some competition to the OmniPod tubeless pump!

Of course, we're all waiting for the integrated Tandem t:slim / Dexcom G4 CGM combo that is in the FDA's hands right now, after being filed with regulators a year ago. We're all hoping that approval news comes soon; Tandem speculates that based on productive discussions, it could be as early as August. Once OK'd, the t:slim G4 combo could be available for purchase within 60 days, we're told.


A Coco Book Prequel

Lilly Diabetes announced during the FFL conference that it was launching its latest Disney Publications book featuring Coco the monkey with diabetes. This is the fourth Coco book in the series in as many years, but it's actually the first in hard cover format and it actually contains three stories all in one. Not only that, but this book is a classic prequal, going back to explore the time when Coco was diagnosed, unlike the earlier books that cover Coco's first trip back to school or camping, post-diagnosis.

Coco Diabetes Book

In Go, Team Coco!, we start out with the little monkey playing soccer with her Disney friends and experiencing some of the typical diabetes symptoms like thirst and fatigue, and from there she ends up in the hospital being diagnosed with T1D. The stories follow Coco in these early D days, as she worries about not being able to play soccer anymore but soon learning that diabetes won't stop her from living her life to the fullest. The book closes out with questions that kids and families might ask right after diagnosis.

This latest book isn't available for online order quite yet, but should be soon. We'll be sure to share the link asap.


"I Am Type 3"

All over the FFL convention center and exhibit hall you could see round stickers declaring, "I Am Type 3" and little squeezable stress balls shaped like a moon and tagged with the same phrase and a URL link.


This is a brand new organization, created just a couple of days before the FFL exhibit hall opened in Orlando.

It's aimed at those people in our lives who love and support us with diabetes. We've been known to refer to these people as Type Awesomes, but more commonly they are referred to as Type 3s. Founded by a group of parents and siblings (like award winning fine artist Sandy O'Connor, whose son and stepdaughter live with diabetes), this new org is pretty much a fundraising mechanism for a handful of diabetes researchers -- including Ed Damiano mentioned above, and Dr. Doug Melton and Camillo Ricordi of the Diabetes Research Institute in Florida, to name a few.

They're looking to "turn the traditional funding model for diabetes research upside-down," and are determined to "fuel a moonshot" that raises money for these important D-research projects. It wasn't clear how the org selects research projects to fund, or if any future advocacy or awareness-building efforts will materialize, but we're looking forward to following the work of I Am Type 3 as it develops.


Recognizing the DOC and Manny Hernandez

A very special moment came at the annual Friends & Family Banquet on Thursday, when our friend and fellow DOC advocate Manny Hernandez was honored with the prestigious Jeff Hitchcock Distinguished Service Award, for making a difference in the Diabetes Community by leading the Diabetes Hands Foundation, TuDiabetes and Diabetes Advocates networks for so many years. Manny stepped down from his leadership role earlier this year and has taken a position with glucose meter / solutions company Livongo. During his speech, Manny thanked his own family and his DOC family as well, which brought tears to many an eye as a standing ovation materialized.


Way to go, Manny!


Wanna Be My FFL?

As always, this conference is a ton of fun to attend, as it is very different from the other big diabetes conferences that are aimed at healthcare, industry and medical professionals. This is a place to wear your flip-flops and hug... everyone!

The exhibit hall displays feature electronic toys and stuffed animas -- like the new golden-doodle Lucas from Abbott, recognizing how those dogs are now allowed as service dogs, to Sami the Penguin from Animas, who can go by land or sea just like the Animas insulin pumps :)

Being held in Orlando, there's always some Disney magic that shines through, and that manifested itself this year during the banquet when two D-peeps came together for a song duet -- Sarah Loebner, who was dx'd at age 9 and is an aspiring physician's assistant, and Kevin Covais, who was dx'd at age 11 and was a finalist on American Idol's 5th season as well as starring on the Disney show Good Luck Charlie. They dressed up in their respective prince and princess costumes and sang the keynote song from Frozen, putting their own diabetes spin on it.

 Here's a link to their song, if you want to take a listen:


Notable, and Thank-Worthy

Also noteworthy were several research updates from JDRF and Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) about important issues like smart insulin being developed by Merck and moving into clinical trials, and the DRI BioHub (implantable islet cell replacement device) that has started studies and is moving along quite nicely.

Personally, I also very much enjoyed the several psychosocial-focused sessions that touched on daily life and challenges we face with diabetes, and there were some heart-to-heart chats about some personal stuff. This stuff always does a body good, and it's clear that our whole community could use more of this type of support.

Thanks to ALL the Children With Diabetes organizers and volunteers for again hosting a wonderful event -- especially Jeff Hitchcock and Laura Billetdeaux, who started this whole thing! And of course to everyone presenting and attending, for doing what they do in the D-Community. Such exciting times, and such a great way to come together and celebrate our progress!

Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.


This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.