Designing cooler diabetes devices


Kelly Marie Smith, ECU Journalist

A group of New Zealand researchers have teamed up with young type 1 diabetes sufferers, to design discreet medical devices to help them feel more comfortable managing their diabetes.

Design PhD student Gillian McCarthy, from Victoria’s School of Design, along with Dr Brian Robinson from the Faculty of Health, aim to get a better understanding of the requirements of medical devices for monitoring type 1 diabetes in teenagers.

A group of seven teens have discussed designing a blood glucose meter that looks like a necklace or even a phone case, so that doesn’t draw negative attention and allows them to be spontaneous and independent.

Ms McCarthy said they wanted to open a conversation with young sufferers about their needs, and explore ways they could design devices that aren’t only medically effective, but can also be integrated into their daily lives.

“Teenagers feeling comfortable managing type 1 diabetes in social situations is important because it reduces pressure to delay or skip blood glucose testing, and allows teenagers to keep participating in activities. In short, it’s likely to improve their health,” she said.

According to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Type 1 diabetes is a life-long autoimmune disease that most often occurs in childhood. Approximately 2,400 young Australians are diagnosed with it every year, being one of the most common chronic disease in children, occurring more frequently than cancer and cystic fibrosis.

People with type 1 diabetes must have a round-the-clock supply of insulin, administered through injections or insulin pumps, while testing their blood sugar by pricking their fingers at least four times a day.

Diabetes is an invisible illness, with not every sufferer showing visible symptoms, but Diabetes WA says, the symptoms are prominent and very real.

According to Ms McCarthy, while every participant has unique experiences in managing their diabetes, the overall message was that medical technologies need to be designed for people, not just as a response to the disease. The technology needs to address psychological and social requirements too.

“The designs are not functioning prototypes, but a way to stimulate discussion with teenagers about their needs,” she said.

To get support and connect with other people with diabetes, join Australian Diabetes Online Community (OzDOC), for weekly Twitter chats.