At Verily, we know that the tools we create to help people manage their health must seamlessly fit into their daily lives. After all, people are not the net sum of the disease or diseases they are managing, but are students or workers and mothers or fathers with many other priorities that come first. There are few places where user-centered design can have a greater impact than for those living with diabetes. In the U.S., there are more than 29 million people living with diabetes and 1.4 million new diagnoses annually. Living with diabetes is a constant balancing act, requiring many people with the disease to regularly monitor their blood sugar levels. Throughout my career as a researcher, I have seen how critical it is to not only create tools that generate more and better data on diabetes, but that also translate data into actionable information that is easily used by people managing their condition.
We have several ongoing projects that approach the challenges of diabetes management from different angles and the user experience of people living with diabetes drives many of our efforts in this space. Recently, I sat down with Aaron Kowalski, Ph.D., Chief Mission Officer for JDRF, who was in the Bay Area as part of the JDRF 2017 Mission Summit.
JDRF, the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research, serves as an advisor to Verily, offering insight into the range of experiences and perspectives of people living with diabetes. We discussed one of our core capabilities at Verily, the miniaturization of electronics, and its potential impact on the daily lives of people living with diabetes. A version of this Q&A is also available on JDRF's blog.
Howard Zisser: Aaron, if you could summarize in one word how you want people managing their diabetes to feel, what would that be?
Aaron Kowalski: “Free”. Right now, there is no cure for T1D, so people who live with this disease are forced to manage it by the hour, night and day, every day. It can be unrelenting.
HZ: As JDRF Chief Mission Officer, you are very connected to the experiences of people with type 1 diabetes. What are some of the daily challenges faced by people with this condition?
AK: Families need help with this often unpredictable disease, which deprives people of sleep and flexibility in their daily lives. There are new treatment options that allow people with T1D to participate in sports, travel, sleepovers and other activities, but it still requires careful planning and consistent management. We can’t wait for the day when we are free from the hourly obligation to manage our blood glucose and free from worry about medical emergencies and serious complications that can shorten our lifespans. It’s our hope that the next generations of diabetes devices can help alleviate some of those worries while offering better health outcomes as JDRF works toward our ultimate goal—a cure for this disease.
HZ: From an engineering standpoint, what improvements could have the most impact?
AK: I’m connected to type 1 diabetes through my position at JDRF, but I also have T1D, and my brother has lived with it for more than 40 years, so I know from personal experience that the smaller and less intrusive devices are, the more easily we can go about our everyday lives. That’s why JDRF is working with many different organizations to support research that can make miniaturization possible—from devices and their components to ultra-concentrated insulins.
HZ: What does the future of wearables look like in T1D?
AK: While devices have made significant progress towards achieving superior health outcomes and a better quality of life, the reality is that none of us really want to have to wear something for the rest of our lives. Making devices smaller is one of several next steps in lifting the burden that comes with having diabetes.
Posted by Howard Zisser, M.D., Diabetes Clinical Lead