Guest column

Houston expert: New technologies are improving lives of those living with type 1 diabetes

Last month was National Diabetes Awareness Month and Houston-based JDRF Southern
Texas Chapter has some examples of how technology is helping people with type 1 diabetes. Photo courtesy of JDRF

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease where insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are mistakenly destroyed by the body's immune system. Insulin is vital in controlling blood-sugar or glucose levels. Not only do you need proper blood-sugar levels for day-to-day energy, but when blood-sugar levels get too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia), it can cause serious problems and even death. Because of this, those with T1D are dependent on injections or pumps to survive.

The causes of T1D are not fully known, and there is currently no cure; however, advancing technologies are making it easier to live with T1D.

Monitoring

Those who have had T1D for decades might recall having to pee into a vial and test reagent strips in order to check their blood-sugar levels. Thankfully, this evolved into glucometers, or glucose meters. With a glucometer, those with T1D prick their finger and place a drop on the edge of the test strip, which is connected to the monitor that displays their results. Nowadays, glucometers, much like most T1D tech, can be Bluetooth enabled and sync with a smartphone.

From there, scientists have developed the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) so that those with T1D can monitor their blood sugar 24/7. All you need to do is insert a small sensor under the skin. The sensor then measures glucose levels every few minutes, and that information can then be transmitted to smartphones, computers and even smart watches.

Monitoring blood-sugar levels is vital for those with T1D, particularly because it helps them stay more aware of their body, know what to do and even what to expect, but they also have to actively control those levels by injecting insulin. Think of a monitor as the "check engine" light. It can tell you that there may be a problem, but it won't fix it for you. To fix it, you would need an injection or a pump.

Pumps and artificial pancreas

The development of insulin pumps has made a huge impact on the lives of those with T1D and parents of children with T1D by making it easier to manage their blood-sugar levels. 50 years ago, the prototype of the insulin pump was so large, it had to be a backpack, but with today's technology, it is about the size of a smartphone. The pump is worn on the outside of the body, and it delivers insulin through a tube which is placed under the skin. Insulin pumps mimic the way a pancreas works by sending out small doses of insulin that are short acting. A pump can also be manipulated depending on each person's needs. For example, you can press a button to deliver a dose with meals and snacks, you can remove it or reduce it when active and it can be programmed to deliver more at certain times or suspend delivery if necessary.

One of the most recent and trending developments in T1D research is the artificial pancreas, or more formally referred to as the automated insulin delivery (AID) systems. Essentially, the artificial pancreas is an insulin pump that works with a CGM. The CGM notifies the insulin pump of your blood-sugar reading, which acts accordingly to restore your blood sugar to the target level. The artificial pancreas allows those with T1D to be even more hands off, as it does essentially everything: It continuously monitors blood-sugar levels, calculates how much insulin you would need, which can be done through smart devices, and automatically delivers insulin through the pump.

Living with T1D is a 24/7/365 battle; however, the advances in technology make it easier and safer to live with the disease. Organizations like JDRF play a huge role in investing in research, advocating for government support and more.

November was National Diabetes Awareness Month, and this year is particularly special for JDRF, as it is the 50th year of the organization. JDRF was founded in 1970 by two moms. The community grew to include scientists, lobbyists, celebrities and children—all determined to improve lives and find cures.

Bound by a will stronger than the disease, this year during National Diabetes Awareness Month (NDAM), JDRF celebrates "The Power of Us." We are reflecting on the power of our community and reminding ourselves and the public of how far we've come in the fight against T1D.


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Rick Byrd is the executive director of the JDRF Southern Texas Chapter.

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Building Houston

 
 

Mayor Sylvester Turner and other local leaders joined the stage for the Ten Across summit in Houston this week. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston has an integral role to play in the energy transition, and that role was thoroughly discussed at a recent conference taking place in the Bayou City.

This week, Houston hosted the 10X Summit: The Future Is Here, an event by Ten Across — an organization that focuses on social, economic, and climate change issues across the region around Interstate 10 from Los Angeles to Jacksonville. The three-day conference featured guest speakers who spoke to resiliency, water, the future of energy, and more.

Among these speakers included a handful of Houston researchers, political figures, and innovators — and much of their conversations overlapped related topics and themes, from Hurricane Harvey's legacy and impact on the business community to the role the city will play in the energy transition.

When it comes to the energy transition, here are the key messages Houston leaders shared with 10X attendees.

The energy transition can't happen without Houston

The topic of the energy transition came up right out of the gate for the summit. At the welcome reception on Tuesday, Bobby Tudor, CEO of Artemis Energy Partners and founder and former CEO of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., spoke to the evolution of the industry and how Houston is a major factor in the energy transition's success.

“I don’t think (the energy transition) is going to happen without (Houston)," Tudor says at the fireside chat with Wellington Reiter, executive director of Ten Across. "There's a notion that the transition is inevitable. It’s inevitable — only if our technology continues to advance and improve, only if new assets get deployed, only if capital supports it, and only if the people who know and understand the energy systems are leaning in to make it happen.”

For Tudor, who served as chair of the Greater Houston Partnership in 2020 and made it his mission to communicate the importance of industry evolution during his tenure, Houston businesses motivated by opportunities in business should be looking at the energy transition.

“We’re very good in Houston that, when we see a dollar bill lying on the ground, we bend over and pick it up. Right now, there’s fantastic opportunity in the energy transition space," he says. "We have both a responsibility and an opportunity to be the leaders in the global energy transition.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner in his chat with Reiter on Thursday addressed how some might think that Houston — a headquarters for some of the biggest oil and gas giants — might not be the right city to lead a cleaner energy system, but Turner argued that's exactly why it has to happen here.

“We are the energy capital of the world," he says. "The reality is we have some of the largest greenhouse gas emitters principally located right here in Houston. To the extent of leading an energy transition, the impact is not just locally. The impact is globally.”

Barbara Burger, former president of Chevron Technology Ventures and an energy tech startup mentor and investor, explained how integral the relationship between the energy industry and Houston is.

“As the energy system evolves, so does Houston," she says. “I think it’s our opportunity to lose."

The role of corporate incumbents 

Burger's discussion, which took place on Wednesday, spoke to the role of incumbents — corporations that have been operating in the energy industry for decades — in the transition. She explained how the process can't move forward without these parties.

“The incumbents need to be a part of the energy transition. There are parts of our society that don’t want them to be, and I find that unfortunate," she says. "For one, we’re not going to decarbonize the energy system unless they are a part of it. Two, there are a lot of skills and capabilities and assets in the incumbents to do that.

"What I don’t think the incumbents will do is they won’t lead it," she continues. "Many will be leaders in the new energy system, but they won’t be the ones first up the hill.”

Burger compares the energy and the automotive industries. Tesla acted as a disruptor to major auto companies, and then they followed suit. The disruptors and catalysts the energy industry will be a combination of startups, investors, governments, universities, and employee bases.

“We’re not going to throw away the current energy system," she says. "We’re going to evolve it and repurpose it.”

Houston has the ingredients

Tudor addressed the existing infrastructure — from physical pipes to expertise and workforce — that Houston has, which makes for an ideal location for innovation and progress in the transition.

“For a lot of reasons, it’s very clear that unless Houston leans in, we’re not going to find the solutions we need to transition our energy systems to much lower CO2 emissions," he says.

The GHP established the Houston Energy Transition Initiative in 2021 to concentrate Houston efforts within the future of energy. Tudor says this initiative is focused on what can be done now in town — attracting clean energy startups, developing a hydrogen hub, building facilities for green hydrogen production — to lead to a better future.

“We want to look up 20 years from now and find Houston is still — if not more than ever — the energy capital of the world," he says. "We believe that energy systems globally in 20 years will look quite different from how they look today. And that means Houston will look very different from how it looks today."

Burger emphasized some of the challenges — as well as opportunities — the city has considering its long history within the sector.

“Houston has benefitted from a vibrant, strong U.S. energy industry,” she says. “Keeping strong companies and keeping Houston attractive for the energy business is critical.”

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