As a biomedical engineering student at Ajman University of Science and Technology, Mohammad Baloola found homegrown inspiration for his final year project. Four members of his family are diabetic, a collective muse for his ingenious artificial pancreas. The pancreas is the body’s sole provider of insulin, its functionality critcally linked to diabetes.
His device works in tandem with a cell-phone-sized handheld carried by the patient, which allows doctors to remotely monitor glucose levels (integral GPS also tracks the patient’s location). The system can be linked to a hospital database enabling immediate medical response if sugar levels destabilize.
Baloola’s been tinkering with improvements since developing the unit in 2008. The product now has 86 custom versions allowing patients to choose one bespoke to their condition.
Over 350,000 people in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are diabetic and that’s expected to double by 2030 due to poor diet, insufficient physical activity and rapidly rising obesity. Scientists predict similar soar rates throughout the Middle East as old habits are replaced by modern consumption habits and sedentary living.
Diabetes affects approximately 19% of UAE adults. According to the International Diabetes Federation: about 25% of Emirati men and 40% of women are obese. Over 12% of Saudi Arabian adults are diabetic. Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman rank among the top eight countries worldwide for the disease. The World Health Organization estimates diabetes treatment costs on average 9% of the total Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) healthcare budget. Untreated, financial impacts of the disease could have a devastating effect on local economies.
Preventative care is slowing starting to get press, but Baloola remains focused on treatment. He believes his device could help save GCC governments millions in associated medical costs. “The biggest problem from diabetes is kidney failure, which occurs in critical situations, requiring dialysis three times a week, which is difficult for the patient and expensive for the government,” he told ArabianBusiness.com. His invention is particularly suited for children suffering from Type 1 diabetes as it enables parents to constantly monitor sugar levels and react quickly to abnormalities.
Baloola’s invention is attracting attention within global scientific communities. Last year he was awarded $10,000 by the Tumoohat Shabab (Young Ambitions) program, sponsored by Sharjah Television and he also received the Arabian Business Achievement Awards science and innovation prize. He’s a fixture at medical conferences across the world, presenting his ideas to the wider medical profession.
Baloola, now a biomedical engineering teaching assistant at his alma mater, is in partnership with an unnamed pharmaceutical brand. Together thay’re working to produce a patentable prototype. “There are many companies working in this area but not all of their monitors are as accurate,” he says.
Baloola’s goal is to make his invention economically accessible with a retail price approximating $55: roughly the same cost as the obligatory glucose meter in every diabetic’s bag of tricks.
Kudos to Baloola for this promising breakthrough. But he is not the only one working on an artificial pancreas. Researchers from the company MD Logic are well on their way of developing a commercial product.
Innovative remedies are good stuff. They can work hand-in-glove with techniques for disease avoidance. Take this triplet tip from author and food activist Michael Pollan: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. And give a nod to flamboyant fitness guru Richard Simmons: would it kill us to get physical, do some sweatin’ to the oldies? Welcome the new, and press on with prevention.
Image of Mohammad Baloola via ArabianBusiness.com