Diabetes Innovators 2014
Rick Admani, Rachael Jacques, and Renee Tobias have developed products to make life with diabetes easier
Not all diabetes innovation involves invention—sometimes it just means bringing a product that improves quality of life to market. Uncontrolled diabetes is a risk factor for vision loss, which can make taking insulin a challenge. “I had a grandfather who lost his vision because of diabetes,” says Rick Admani, COO of Prodigy Diabetes Care, the Charlotte, N.C., company that makes Count-a-Dose. It’s a device that allows a visually impaired person to fill a syringe with the desired amount of insulin. “The whole reason I’m in this business,” Admani adds, “is that it’s emotional for me.”
Admani, who has a background in biomedical engineering, had worked with the National Federation of the Blind developing the Prodigy line of talking blood glucose meters for people with diabetes and low vision. A few years ago, his contact from the federation reached out to him about the Count-a-Dose. The owner of the product had threatened to take it off the market because of difficulty with production and Food and Drug Administration regulations. “He did not want to invest more money in the product because the profit wasn’t attractive,” Admani says. “Prodigy took over the product and worked with the FDA to get the regulatory issues resolved.”
So, a year after the prospect of being taken off the market, Count-a-Dose was here to stay. “We get a lot of e-mails saying they appreciate us bringing the product back on the market,” says Admani. “These patients want independence and don’t want to wait for someone to come home to give injections.”
Unless you have a photographic memory, trying to pinpoint the tiny spot where you last injected insulin can be difficult. That’s why Rachael Jacques, who lives near Minneapolis, invented Tartoos, an injection site rotation aid that’s also a temporary tattoo. She recognized the challenges of injection site rotation through her work as a community health educator. She says, “One question kept coming up: ‘I understand I’m supposed to rotate injection sites, but how do you remember where you last injected?’ ” Injection site rotation is important because injecting too often in one spot can cause people to develop lumps of fat or scar tissue under the skin that can change how insulin is absorbed.
Jacques says the Tartoos idea just came to her. “I knew we’d have to have something that stayed on for multiple days and something removable,” she says. “Temporary tattoos seemed a good medium that takes care of that.” Each Tartoo is made up of a 4- by 6-inch grid of 20 small images—the injection targets. Once a site is selected, the user removes the image with an antiseptic wipe and gives the injection at that spot.
Jacques shopped around for manufacturers that used federally approved colorants. “A lot of temporary tattoos come from China, and there’s no regulation,” Jacques says. Then she ordered 200 Tartoos to start with and applied for a patent (still pending).
With her prototypes in hand, Jacques began marketing. “I started e-mailing all the bloggers in the diabetic community, specifically parents,” Jacques says. “As a mom myself, I knew if anyone was going to get behind this product, it was going to be moms and dads.” She got positive reviews and requests for the product. “I just want to make it easier in the day-to-day,” she says. “If we accomplish that, I’ll be super happy.”
What do you get when you combine pantyhose, scuba gear, and a broken insulin vial? That would be the Securitee Blanket, an insulin vial cozy invented by Renee Tobias of Wheeling, Ill. “Mom and I were at Portillo’s,” she says, a popular hot dog chain in Chicagoland. “The insulin is on the table, Mom all set to take it. Her finger touches it and off the table it goes. It broke.” Then the same thing happened during a family vacation, and this time it wasn’t so easy to get a replacement vial. That’s when Tobias decided to apply her craftiness to protecting those fragile bottles.
As a first attempt, she took some foam insulation, cut it to size, and wrapped it around her mother’s insulin vial. “It was really bulky and it wasn’t easy to hold,” she says. So Tobias kept crafting, searching for a solution that could help her mother and others protect their precious insulin. That’s where scuba diving enters this story.
One day Tobias, an avid scuba diver, realized that the neoprene used in wet suits could make a compact, easy-to-handle wrapper for insulin vials. There was one problem, though: The inside of her prototype neoprene cozy was too sticky, so the vials refused to slide into the holder. That’s when Tobias remembered that, back in the old days, divers (including men) would wear pantyhose under their wet suits to help them get the clothing on and off. That was her aha moment: “I’ll glue some of my nylons inside!” It worked. The pantyhose liner made the Securitee Blanket unique enough that she was able to patent the product. Tobias found a California company specializing in neoprene to handle the manufacturing of Securitee Blanket. Nylons are no longer used in the product, but the idea is the same.
The name, Securitee Blanket, came to her easily, Tobias says, because the product really is, by definition, a security blanket. “It reduces the anxiety,” she says. “It really is a blanket, and it gives you a little bit of security.”