Nov 23, 2021

A century of innovation

For Diabetes Awareness Month and World Diabetes Day, Medtronic is celebrating the discovery of insulin and other treatments making life easier for people living with the condition.

When Kris Leeper was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, he struggled to imagine a future that wasn’t defined by daily insulin injections and carbohydrate counting.

But four years later, a Medtronic insulin pump helped Leeper manage his diabetes in a way that put him in charge of his disease and not the other way around.

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Kris Leeper is a diabetes activist and Medtronic ambassador.

“All the guesswork and needle injections were reduced,” Leeper said. “I was able to have confidence in living with my diagnosis. Using diabetes technology has made my everyday life sustainable and easier.”

On Nov. 29, Leeper, diabetes activist and Medtronic ambassador, will be one of the featured guest speakers at a live webinar Medtronic is hosting in celebration of Diabetes Awareness Month. This year, Medtronic is commemorating Diabetes Awareness Month by recognizing a special milestone in the history of diabetes management — the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin.

The discovery of insulin transformed diabetes from a death sentence to a chronic disease that could be carefully managed by patients and their doctors. Since then, technologies developed by companies like Medtronic have dramatically improved the lives of people with diabetes, giving them more choices — more freedom from their disease — than ever before.

“We want to be a true partner for those living with diabetes,” said Sean Salmon, executive vice president and president of the Cardiovascular Portfolio and Diabetes Operating Unit at Medtronic. “To do this, we listen to the community and partner to find ways to drive innovation in everything we do. From new product development to support that is centered around what people want and need, we are committed to making the lives of those living with diabetes easier.”

How a discovery by a Canadian surgeon created a lifetime of hope for people living with diabetes

In 1922, Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old boy dying from diabetes in a Toronto hospital became the first person to receive an injection of insulin. Within 24 hours of treatment, his dangerously high blood glucose levels dropped to near-normal levels.

This medical breakthrough was fueled by the work of several scientists including a young Canadian surgeon named Frederick Banting who earned a Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery and gave hope to millions of people around the world living with diabetes.

The following years were filled with technological advancements in the management of diabetes such as the creation of the first insulin pump in1974. Known as the “Biostator,” the device was so large it was worn as a backpack. Since then, insulin pumps have become implantable, smaller, and “smarter.”

In 2001, Medtronic expanded into the diabetes care market by acquiring MiniMed, a California-based company and established leader in diabetes care. From there, the pace of innovation accelerated. In 2006, Medtronic launched the first continuous glucose monitor for personal use, and in 2009 the company introduced the world's first insulin pump to automatically suspend insulin delivery to prevent low blood sugar episodes.

Medtronic was behind another revolutionary moment in the treatment of diabetes with the 2017 launch of the MiniMed™ 670G system — the world's first hybrid closed loop system for people with type 1 diabetes. Featuring the company's most advanced SmartGuard technology and Guardian™ Sensor 3, it was the first insulin pump approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enable personalized and automated delivery of basal insulin, the background insulin needed to help maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day and night. 

“Technology has made so much possible today that we could only dream about decades ago,” said Dr. Robert Vigersky, chief medical officer for the Diabetes Operating Unit at Medtronic.

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Dr. Robert Vigersky is the chief medical officer for the Diabetes Operating Unit at Medtronic

More choices, better outcomes, greater access

Today, Medtronic is giving people with diabetes more treatment choices to allow them to manage their insulin delivery in a way that best fits their needs. In 2020, the company acquired Companion, the maker of the InPen™, the only FDA-clear smart insulin system. Not long after that, Medtronic integrated the InPen™ with its Guardian Connect™ continuous glucose monitoring system, giving people who rely on multiple daily injections of insulin access to real-time data[i], delivered through their smartphone.

In the future, people living with diabetes will have even more treatment choices because of continued technological advances such as those behind the next-generation Medtronic insulin pump and continued glucose monitoring system currently under review by the FDA. The company has announced that individuals on the current MiniMed™ 770G system now will get access to the MiniMed™ 780G[ii] insulin pump and CGM through a no-cost remote software upgrade expected in early spring.

Medtronic is also working to expand access to diabetes treatment technologies for more people around the world. Deep and systemic inequities often prevent people living in underserved communities from getting the care they need, including treatment for diabetes. In fact, studies have shown that Hispanic and Black people with diabetes use technology at rates that are two times and three times less than their white counterparts.[iii]

To address these inequities, Medtronic is focusing on reducing bias through interventions in the diabetes care pathway and increasing ethnic and racial minorities in clinical studies. The company is developing unconscious bias and informed decision-making trainings to help doctors become better advocates for their patients — many of whom may speak a different language. The company is also working with diabetes centers that serve mostly Spanish-speaking patients and provide access to education, support materials, and classes in their language to help patients set up their technology properly.

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Sean Salmon is executive vice president and president of the Cardiovascular Portfolio and Diabetes Operating Unit at Medtronic.

"Underlying barriers to health equity – including awareness, access, trust, bias, and affordability – are unfortunate truths that exist in the U.S. healthcare system,” Salmon said. "As a medical device manufacturer, we have the responsibility to help reduce health inequities within communities of color by ensuring they are granted the same access to technologies that may help them better manage their disease."

Raising awareness for diabetes every day

Reducing inequities that prevent people from underserved communities from gaining access to the latest diabetes management technologies is just one of the topics planned for discussion at the Nov. 29 live webinar held in conjunction with Diabetes Awareness Month.

In addition to Leeper, the live webinar will feature Rob Howe, Medtronic ambassador, Maribel Baker, director of health equity and community programs at Medtronic, and Kael Wherry, PhD, director of health economics and outcomes research at Medtronic.

For the longest time, Leeper didn’t talk much about his diabetes. He said he didn’t want to seem weak or vulnerable. But now he sees the value of sharing his experience living with the disease and hopes to help others.

“When I was first diagnosed, I could not wrap my head around the idea of a future filled with needles and carb counting,” he said. “But now my future looks the way it did before I knew I had diabetes. It’s whatever I make it."


[i] Data may not appear or be delayed in certain instances, including when there is no internet connection.
[ii] The MiniMed™ 780G pump and new CGM are under FDA review and not currently for sale in the U.S.
[iii] Agarwal Et Al., Racial-ethic Inequality In Young Adults With Type 1 Diabetes. The Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Volume 105, Issue 8, August 2020, Pages E2960-e2969. Willi, SM. et al. Racial-Ethnic Disparities in Management and Outcomes Among Children with Type 1 Diabetes. Pediatrics Vol 135 (3) 2015

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