By Aaron Kowalski, Ph.D., Chief Mission Officer, JDRF
JDRF works every day to change the reality of living with T1D for millions of people. To help us do that, we partner with other organizations who have aligned missions. We are very excited that we’ve begun a collaboration with Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) to advise their team from the perspective of people living with T1D, which we hope will lead to a positive “user experience” for future Verily devices. Verily’s focus is on making health data useful, and there are few places where this approach can have a greater impact than for those living with diabetes. At a time when tech innovation is blossoming, it’s critical to create tools that generate more and better diabetes data and to translate that data into actionable information that people can use to improve outcomes.
Verily has several ongoing projects that approach the challenges of diabetes management from different angles. In its collaboration with Dexcom, Verily is working on the smallest continuous glucose monitor (CGM) yet developed. With Alcon, it has a suite of smart contact lenses under development, one of which is aimed to sense glucose levels in real time. And in a joint venture, Verily and Sanofi have launched Onduo, whose aim is to provide comprehensive solutions that combine devices, software, medicine and professional care to enable simple and intelligent diabetes management.
The user experience of people living with diabetes drives many of Verily’s efforts in this space. Recently, I was in the Bay Area and sat down with Howard Zisser, M.D., Verily’s Clinical Lead of Diabetes, to offer insight into the range of experiences and perspectives of people living with diabetes. We discussed one of Verily’s core capabilities, the miniaturization of electronics, and its potential impact on the daily lives of people living with diabetes.
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.
A version of this Q&A is also available on Verily’s blog.