Decomposing a major world health challenge

Cyndi Williams
Cyndi Williams

When Isabella approached me 5 years ago with her idea for turning the world of diabetes on its head, she had a very clear view that things weren’t working. With one of the biggest challenges of our lives ahead of us, we started breaking it down into some stepping stones… 


Start with the people 

I didn’t know anything about diabetes before Quin, but Isabella had been living with it for over two decades. We knew we needed to go way beyond the surface. If we wanted to make a difference, the problem statement would need to come from people. After many weeks interviewing potential customers, attending diabetes conferences, and reading research papers, I moved from uninformed to actually kind of shocked.


State the problem through human eyes 

Diabetes is a condition that affects 425M people globally. $673B is spent on treatment every year. These stats are widely known, but no one really knows exactly what diabetes is or what causes it.

So what is known about type 1 diabetes (where we’re working right now)? In a nutshell: your body doesn’t create enough insulin, so you have to inject it. Eating and drinking carbohydrates raises your blood glucose. And taking insulin lowers it. With that knowledge, in theory, all you would have to do to manage blood glucose is calculate the predicted rises and drops from what you eat, drink, and inject, and you’re good to go. 

It sounds straightforward, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work. 92% of people who take insulin are unable to achieve the recommended medical targets and they’re 2 to 3 times more likely to have fatigue, anxiety, stress and depression. Results like these don’t come about because people don’t eat well or don’t listen to their doctor. Let’s see what the people think…


Pay attention to the whole physiology 

Most people think diabetes management is just about sugar and insulin. But people with the condition will tell you there are many more factors that cause rises and drops in blood glucose. Here’s a few I’ve heard about since starting up Quin: falling in love, having sex, breast feeding, arguing (in no particular order), stressing, exercising, playing with the kids, changing jobs, getting married, buying a house, weather, changes in temperature and altitude, and the list goes on.

But the general medical knowledge used to manage diabetes misses the complex physiology behind these observations. Unfortunately, the people can’t ignore it.


Match your tools to the problem 

There’s no good way to isolate all the events that affect people with diabetes and study them in a lab. They happen “in the wild” as a part of day-to-day life. And that’s where we should study them and learn how to manage them.

Easier said than done, but entirely possible with the technology we have available today. 

At Quin, we’re making a mobile medical app that takes data off diabetes devices and phones and combines it with daily life experience to help each person manage their insulin dosing based on their unique past experience and physiology. 


Keep the people at the centre

Like many world health challenges, diabetes is a massive design challenge, and only a human-centred approach will do. 

If you dig in and continuously deepen your understanding of the life of an individual living with the challenge, the technology you create can make their life and health better. And then you can contribute their knowledge and experience back to the greater understanding.

These are some of the stepping stones we’ve started with, in our quest to decompose insulin-treated diabetes into more granular conditions that can be named, targeted, treated and possibly even cured.

We hope you can join us on our journey. We’ll be closing our crowdfunding campaign soon, so we recommend you join us soon if you’re interested, before it’s too late. Click here to find out more:

Cyndi Williams
Cyndi Williams