To mark 100 years since the first diabetes patient was injected with insulin, Jill Owens, Programme Manager, KSS AHSN, considers the ongoing importance of innovation to improve patient care, experience, and outcomes – and how AHSNs can help.

When does the story begin?
11th January 1922 was the first time synthetic insulin was trialled in a human to treat diabetes. At that time Type 1 Diabetes was a very quick and horrible death sentence and people would live a couple of years at most after diagnosis.

Those first trials were carried out on a 14 year old boy who recovered incredibly quickly after being injected with synthetic insulin (further developments were still needed to improve the formula at this stage). Type 1 Diabetes can be a debilitating and life threatening disease but innovation in its treatment meant it was much quicker and easier to restore health.

How has this affected you personally?
My stepson has Type 1 Diabetes, he was diagnosed when he was 13. He became very ill but a very on the ball paramedic spotted what was wrong with him and from there he recovered health. He’s now a healthy 18 year old able to work, see his friends and eat and drink whatever he wants because of the way that medical technology has developed.

Even in that time, we have seen his care change from multiple injections per day to pump therapy. We’re currently using loop pump therapy, which is the height of the technology at the moment. This therapy almost replicates the function of the pancreas and means he can live a nearly completely normal life after a diagnosis that would have been a death sentence a hundred years ago.

Innovation remains really important when it comes to continuing to improve care and deliver better outcomes. Patient experience is also important and is another area where current innovation is improving by destigmatising diabetes.

The loop pump that he uses is not actually a replacement pancreas but is a little widget which sits on his arm or elsewhere. People can be curious about that, but more and more we’re seeing celebrities from supermodels to Olympians with their diabetes pumps on display. There are three aspects to it which have all helped: the development of the technology, its implementation so that many people can benefit and its destigmatising role.

How does this affect your role at KSS AHSN?
I think this has helped me to really understand the life changing impact of innovation that clever, passionate people are working away on and the importance of ensuring that it is successfully implemented. It’s not just about Type 1 Diabetes, there are so many conditions where someone has seen a problem, and come up with a solution which now needs to get into as many hands as required to improve and save lives.

At KSS AHSN our approach to transforming lives through innovation is profoundly evidence based and we make sure that innovation we work with has the regulatory approval and evidence that’s needed to show it’s safe. From there it’s really important to make sure we can find the right pathways, make sure that the cost benefits work in the favour of both the system and the patient and ensure that people can access the solution. Everyone involved – staff, patients, carers – needs to understand the benefits of the solution and how to use it effectively.

How does the KSS AHSN team support innovation?
I’ve seen first hand in the area of Type 1 Diabetes how new technology benefits individuals and saves lives, it’s the same for many of my colleagues who will be patients or carers in other disease areas. As a team we’re passionate about the power of innovation and experienced in working with the system to implement it successfully. We have a huge repository of innovation at our fingertips and also have strong relationships with industry innovators.

Our approach is working together with patients, system colleagues and innovators to make sure that new services and products really hit the spot. Our experience of successful innovation implement means that we are also aware of many of the pitfalls and understand how to overcome them.

Find out more
If you’d like to talk with us about how we can support health and care innovation, whether you’re working in the health and care system or in industry, please get in touch.

Jill Owens

Programme Manager, KSS AHSN

January 2022