Personalized Medicine for Diabetes Patients | Data & Me
Can the advent of personalized medicine decrease the impact of diabetes on the 425 million1 people living with it in the world today — maybe even cure the disease altogether?
In this article and video, we explore the possibilities when data and technology combine to make medical treatments more personalized.
A Rising Epidemic
Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death worldwide in 2016, up from number 13 in 2000.2 It’s a disease that affects the pancreas’ ability to manufacture insulin, which helps regulate the body’s blood sugar (glucose) levels. The effects are devastating, often causing blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation in patients.
Even if you have your diabetes under control, it’s a constant trial and error game to figure out the best insulin schedule and dosage. The more a patient can avoid peaks and valleys of glucose levels, keeping stabilized, the better off they will be.
Diabetic patient, Deanne, shared her story in the Data & Me video above. She was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when she was a child.
“Growing up, it was hard to monitor my condition. Urine tests only told us what my blood sugar was hours ago and we didn’t have day-to-day information to know what was going on. So, it was a lot of a guessing at how much insulin to give me,” said Deanne.
Data and Technology Creating More Personalized Medicine
Until relatively recently, patient-assist technology was limited for diabetics. But the evolution of sensors, cloud storage and analytics are dramatically improving their options.
Testing glucose levels in the blood is the only way to understand how a patient’s daily routine and diet affect their blood sugar, so it’s important to test regularly throughout the day. Finger-prick tests have been common since the 1960s and slowly evolved from not-so-accurate color-change strips to more precise and easy-to-use meters. But a momentary test after a meal is only giving you one small piece of the picture.
Next came the blood glucose meter, which has been evolving since the 1980’s when a model could weigh up to four pounds and take a minute to compute a reading.2 Over the years, meters became more portable and accurate, but they still weren’t saving the data to help patients and doctors understand trends over time.
Today’s continuous glucose meters (CGMs) could be called wearables for diabetics. The sophisticated sensors provide a reading instantly and can send the data to the manufacturer who in turn provides a dashboard empowering patients to better understand and manage their disease.
In addition to a CGM, patients can tie in an automatic insulin pump which offers smaller, more regular doses at designated times throughout the day, replacing traditional shots which can really add up.
“I started out with two shots a day, then that turned into three. At one point I was up to five to seven injections a day, having to rotate around my body. Pretty soon you’re running out of body mass to give those shots. And you know, scar tissue builds up from all of those injections. With the insulin pump, I move my injection sight every three days.” — Deanne
Data from the CGM helps doctors design personalized medicine; determining the right insulin level and schedule with the goal being to come as close as possible to mimicking the natural flow of insulin from a non-diabetic pancreas.
Personalized Medicine Changing Lives
For patients like Deanne, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for over 40 years, these technologies are a blessing. Though she’s always been smart about managing her diabetes, she admits it hasn’t always been easy.
“I am so appreciative of the technology. It’s made a tremendous difference in my life and gives me a lot of freedom. I actually can forget that I’m diabetic.” — Deanne
As the technologies continue to evolve, perhaps someday small implants could provide both the glucose readings and insulin, continuously communicating with the device manufacturer, doctors, and patients in a self-regulating loop that could spot a trend towards blood sugar spikes and correct them before they even begin. Imagine the lives saved of the 2.2 million3 people who die every year due to high blood glucose.
And with the increase in data coming from these devices, perhaps researchers will one day be able to identify a cure.