Frank Westermann

November 14, 2023

Playing … and fighting sugar

Hi, my name is Frank, and I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1997. It is very hard to express how much of an impact the disease has on my everyday life. Insulin-dependent diabetes such as Type 1 is extremely time consuming. You constantly  need to think about your next steps: Is my insulin basal rate sufficient for what I’ve planned today? How much insulin should I inject before my next meal? Sleeping can be awful when you wake up in the middle of the night with low blood glucose.  Recent studies have shown that patients with Type 1 diabetes spend more than an hour per day managing their disease. If you want to look on the bright side:

A hundred years ago, this diagnosis would have been  a death sentence.

Patients like me would have been able to extend their lives for a few months with a strict diet, but sooner or later they would have fallen into a diabetic coma and never woken up. Insulin was only discovered in the 1920s – as an active substance in the pancreas of dogs. Little happened until the 1980s when new insulins came onto the market. Genetically engineered, faster insulins have been successful since the turn of the millennium, further improving the situation of patients by mimicking natural human insulin. Living with diabetes has become easier over the years, especially since Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) has been introduced. That was truly a game changer for me. It gave me back a lot of my freedom because it tests glucose levels every five minutes and warns you when you risk dipping below normal levels. And you no longer need to prick your finger. That hurts! And doing it around eight to ten times a day is just not fun.

Diabetes truly sucks. Even  with the help of CGM, anyone  who lives with it is a real hero, and must be proud of that.

I never planned to work in this field. I tried to make the best of the fact that I was diagnosed with Type 1, but after so many years experiencing the disease, I realized that it was my USP. That is why I co-founded mySugr with Gerald Stangl, Fredrik Debong, and Michael Forisch. Fredrik and I live with Type 1 diabetes while Gerald and Michael have been very empathetic and recognize that it’s a real asset to have two co-founders living with the disease.

Right now, around  40 people with Type 1 diabetes work for mySugr.

I think there’s no other workplace where you will find as much empathy and support for life with Type 1. This also has the added benefit of helping us to better understand the needs of our customers. When we started mySugr in 2012, there were no connected glucose meters, no connected pumps, or anything remotely like that. That is why we first chose a playful approach to get our patients to enter their data into the mySugr app to get a better sense of the status of their disease. We have now reached the point where mySugr can manage the disease holistically. We provide blood glucose meters, automatically send new supplies as you need them, and provide access to certified diabetes educators directly through the mySugr app.

If you look back at diabetes treatment almost a hundred years ago, you would have to say that it has come a long way. But of course, mySugr isn’t the only product out there. There are other great companies working on diabetes, other people  who work passionately to improve life with the disease. While we do have a positive influence on the organization of our patients’ everyday life, diabetes technology is constantly evolving. Today, we even have “artificial pancreas” systems. They are not as effective as your magically working human pancreas, but they are a great help for day-today life. In fact, the first commercial products are already available on the market, with insulin pumps or an app recognizing high blood sugar levels and automatically injecting the required amount of insulin.

Fun fact: I use Loop, a service developed by an inspiring community of people with diabetes whose app basically hacks our insulin pump and automatically injects insulin based on CGM values. It’s not for everybody. It’s not a regulated medical device. It’s experimental, I’m using it at my own risk and would never recommend it in a professional capacity, but I love it. It keeps my blood glucose in check without me needing to constantly interfere. In my case, such a dramatic increase in quality of life is almost like a cure.

However, solutions rarely come as quickly as we wish.

If one thing is uncertain, it’s the future. I still remember my doctor telling me right after I got diagnosed: “Hey Frank, don’t worry, in ten years there will be gene therapy, and you will be cured.” That was 23 years ago.

Giving people with chronic conditions easy and affordable access to healthcare

Frank Westermann

Co-Founder mySugr

Frank Westermann

Co-Founder & Co-CEO 9amHealth