Summer Alba has been living with type 1 diabetes for the last four years—nearly half of her life. “She handles it beautifully,” her mother, Michelle Alba says. “It’s hard for them to be kids because of all the things they have to know and remember. They have big responsibilities at such a young age, and they’re different children for it.”
Now nine years old, Summer recently enrolled in a clinical trial of an “artificial pancreas”— hybrid closed-loop system that involves a pair of devices designed to make diabetes management a lot more carefree—and to restore that aspect to childhood. Summer currently manages her diabetes with an insulin pump. In conventional pump therapy, patients have pre-programmed insulin delivery to provide a continuous dose of background insulin throughout the day. Additionally, before meals they need to check their blood sugar levels and enter the amount of carbohydrates they plan to eat to administer a quick release dose of insulin (known as a bolus dose) from their pumps. The system Summer was trying out in the trial automates some of that process, synchronizing a glucose monitor and insulin pump to work in tandem. For the five days of the trial, she only had to manually deliver her insulin before meals—the rest was taken care of by the system. Meanwhile, the research team constantly monitored her numbers to ensure that her blood sugar was under control.
“It’s really exciting to offer our patients—our younger patients—the ability to check out some of these technologies, as they’re in development,” says pediatric endocrinologist Jennifer Lynn Sherr, MD, PhD, who led the trial.
From the first day of the trial, Summer’s blood sugar level stayed in an ideal range—for the first time ever.
“I’ve never been steady in the 100s,” Summer says. “This has never happened. My mom and I, we think this is amazing, that this is happening.”
Alongside the numbers, Summer and Michelle were excited to find a community with the other trial participants, all of whom were under the age of 12. “We certainly made lifelong friends,” Michelle says. “Everyone’s in the same boat; they’re in the same circumstances.”
For the duration of the trial, Summer and the other kids enjoyed a slew of activities around New Haven. Summer’s personal favorite was building and racing boats at the Eli Whitney Museum. “I loved everything that we did,” she says. “It was very fun.”
Summer’s initial motivation to take part went far beyond enjoyable activities and active curiosity, however. “I wanted to help a lot of people,” she says. “I think this study’s great for children with diabetes who need help.” Michelle concurred: “We’re always 100 percent for any kind of study that is going to help many, many, many people—we’re always onboard to do something like that.” The course of the trial also provided an incredible reprieve for participants and their parents over the five-day span.
“It’s not just that the kids are providing something for us,” Dr. Sherr says, “but hopefully we’ll provide something to them in terms of their day-to-day management.”
For themselves and for others, Michelle and Summer are thrilled to have participated. Michelle says there was no hesitation about whether to sign up “knowing that, at the end of the day, things are going to be better for thousands and thousands of people, as well as in your life and your child’s life.”