Diabetes is a demanding disease to manage requiring individuals to shoulder a lot of responsibility to keep their disease under control. To help take some of the burden off of patients and their care teams, continued innovation and solutions in digital health are needed.
From the first artificial pancreas to “smart socks”, we’ve rounded up a few of the latest technologies gaining buzz in the diabetes space to take a closer look.
FDA Green-Lights the Artificial Pancreas
Last month the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first-ever artificial pancreas developed by Medtronic. “As small as a cell phone and worn externally, with thin tubing inserted beneath the skin and changed out every few days” the device enables the monitoring and automatic delivery of insulin for people with type 1 diabetes, allowing patients to hand off some of the responsibility that comes with the constant tracking of their blood sugar levels. Patients are required, however, to input the number of carbs eaten at mealtimes in order for the device to calculate how much insulin is necessary.
Results from a recent study show that Medtronic’s device kept people with type 1 diabetes within their desired blood-sugar range 72 percent of the time, compared to 67 percent when controlling their own insulin dosing.
Hot on Medtronic’s heels are a handful of other companies with artificial pancreas technology underway. Bigfoot Biomedical’s device is in the middle of its first clinical trial and hopes to win FDA approval next summer. Their artificial pancreas requires no carb counting unlike Medtronics.
Beta Bionics device, the iLet, pumps insulin but also the hormone glucagon, which is normally released by the liver when blood-sugar levels drop too low. The production of both insulin and glucagon is impaired in people with type 1 diabetes. According to Ed Damiano, who started the company, the ability of their product to integrate glucagon is a game changer. He says “Glucagon is a freight train that’s coming. The insulin-only devices are great. They’re a huge step forward. But the addition of glucagon makes all the difference.” A study presented at the American Diabetes Association’s meeting in June seemed to confirm that, finding, “Delivering small doses of glucagon through an automated continuous glucose monitoring system can substantially reduce hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels) in patients with type 1 diabetes.”
Medtronic has set the stage by acquiring the first approval from the FDA but the playing field is clearly healthy with creative new solutions to better support people with diabetes. However, some of the enthusiasm has been tempered by the potential high price tag that many fear will accompany the new technology.
In order for the technology to be effective and make a significant impact, patients will need to have access that high costs could potentially prohibit.
Gadgets and Apps Making Waves in Diabetes Management
Startup Siren Care hopes to make a splash in the diabetes space this spring with their sensory lined “Smart Socks” designed to detect variations in foot temperature linked to inflammation—a concern for people with diabetes. The goal is that by catching injuries early—injuries that often go unnoticed—serious health complications can be avoided.
The Siren app also prompts individuals when there is a significant increase on the foot so action can be taken immediately. Additionally, the app allows patients to track their daily activity, for example how many days of the week they wore their socks, highlighting their progress and showing the impact on their health over time, encouraging lifestyle changes if needed.
Another wearable, an innovative arm patch by Abbott called the FreeStyle Libre Pro system, is designed to help clinicians provide better diabetes management for their patients. The small sensor, which resides on the back of the patient’s upper arm, reads glucose levels every 15 minutes for up to two weeks. This provides clinicians with ample data that they can then use with their patients to develop individualized treatment plans based on the patterns and trends they see within those readings.
The data that these advancements are intending to capture have the potential to uncover critical information about the lifestyle choices of each user, and how individual behaviors may be affecting their diabetes, giving them the opportunity to make the appropriate changes.
The Ultimate Approval Comes from Patients
All of these potential solutions seem to have a unified goal—to make diabetes—a very complicated disease to live with—a bit easier and less burdensome for individuals to manage.
According to Stat News, “While companies see a tantalizingly big market, the reality is that diabetes patients have been slow to adopt the validated tech that’s long been on the market.”
The innovation is encouraging but the real test of how successful these solutions will ultimately be depends on if the people living with diabetes actually utilize them, consequently, changing their health outcomes. Therefore, solutions need to be easy to use and widely accessible.