Who's excited about our new YouTube-based Diabetes Design Challenge, launched yesterday? Ooh, me, me! And guess who else? The national advocacy group JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). I was delighted to have a talk earlier this week with two heads of their progressive Artificial Pancreas Project: research director Aaron Kowalski (interviewed here before) and head of new technology Cynthia Rice. Here's a synopsis of what they had to say, mostly in Aaron's words:
When you think about medical devices, they're most really driven by physicians -- pacemakers, etc. These are physician-driven tools. However, diabetes is so unique in that you see your doctor every three months or so -- if you're diligent -- and you manage everything the rest of the time. You own the devices, you're managing them, and you just go in for tune-ups.
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Diabetes provides unique opportunities to take these devices and ratchet up their form factor. We think you hit the nail on the head when brought this issue to the forefront. We need smaller, easier, more convenient devices, and we've only begun to see these materialize. It's a golden opportunity.
When we talk about the artificial pancreas, we believe it has the potential to transform life with diabetes. Of course the safety and efficacy have to be there, but we can do that. We'll show that in the coming years. In fact, the Artificial Pancreas (AP) problem was actually solved in 1970s, with the BioStator machine -- but that thing is the size of a large chest fridge-freezer, so it works, but you can't lug that around.
When we talk to volunteers about new devices and the AP, they're motivated by things like their 8-year-old granddaughter who was diagnosed recently, saying it's so hard for her to dress -- she needs to get a seamstress to make a special pump pocket in her pants. These are the life issues people are dealing with.
Pumps and sensors are now very good. They're helping people. But to really make as wide an impact as possible, you have to concentrate on the form factor, ease of use, and incorporation into other devices (like cell phones). That is huge.
If the majority of people with diabetes can't easily benefit, then we haven't reached our goal. We're hearing from many, many people all across the country, saying this is a critical issue -- for toddlers, older patients, people of all ages and walks of life.
THE BALANCING ACT
Our job is to help people do better -- get better A1C results, be happier, experience less hypoglycemia, and achieve peace of mind.
If you think about it, these are the two key goals:
1) glucose control
2) peace of mind/ happiness
You have to have both. It's a difficult balancing act. You can go too hard on blood glucose control and be miserable, or you can go the opposite and be happy-go-lucky but very unhealthy.
If we're going to impact people positively, then we need to help them with their blood glucose control -- to experience fewer swings -- but also make it EASIER for them to accomplish. That means issues like not having to lug around so much stuff, not having to think about your BG levels every second of the day, or count every speck of carbohydrate you eat. We talk about good diabetes management from the medical side, but the other side of the equation so important too...
GIVE US CHOICES
People with diabetes are so varied. There's the 8-year-old kid going to school every day, versus the older gentleman who may be retired and barely gets out of his house. Consumer design takes that variability into account, but traditionally medical design does not. What we really need and want are choices.
Someone who travels a lot might like a meter integrated into their cell phone, whereas parents seem to typically want small products that fit in their or their childrens' pockets. Some people want a separate handheld controller, while others don't. Some don't mind being "tethered," while others can't stand it. This is one of the key things we've learned in our initiative. Academic researchers have now done many clinical experiments on AP technology. The next phase is to push companies to get on board, especially with creative designs.
One of our core beliefs is the importance of having more than one company working on this in order to stimulate competition and provide a variety of choices. We applaud what you're doing at DiabetesMine, because it sheds light on this need.
You have to love the folks at JDRF (and not just because they said nice stuff about the blog); they really "get it." So send them some love. Then send us your contest entries. Oh yes.