Empowering Diabetes Innovation: My Journey as a Clinical Trial Participant

February 14, 2024
Olivia Tabola
Olivia Tabola is a University of Connecticut graduate majoring in Allied Health Sciences and minoring in Biological Sciences. She has had type 1 diabetes since she was 10 years old and has been passionate about diabetes management and advocacy ever since. Her interest in diabetes research and technology has only heightened since she started working for Insulet Corporation in 2021. More recently, she wrote her honors thesis on the types of information shared about type 1 diabetes on TikTok and evaluated whether the advice shared was consistent with clinical recommendations.

Clinical trials are the most important step in the cycle of medical innovation. After years of research and development of new treatments and technologies, clinical trials are the final hurdle before a treatment is clinically available. These trials would be impossible if participants were not willing to donate their time and themselves to medical research. I was lucky enough to be able to be a part of one of these trials.

After being diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 10, I always wanted to have the best and newest technologies to regulate my blood sugars. I love learning about new systems that are coming out, and I have always wanted to get my hands on them as soon as I could. This interest quickly led me to the world of clinical research. In early 2020, in my freshman year of college at the University of Connecticut, there was a presentation made by Dr. Ed Damiano about the new iLet made by Beta Bionics. He mentioned that they would soon be starting the pivotal trial for the iLet to be approved by the FDA, and I knew I needed to be a part of it if I could. I found the trial information at ClinicalTrials.gov and contacted the study center there. This database, maintained by the National Library of Medicine, provides information about research studies to patients, healthcare professionals, and other researchers. They make it easy to get in touch with those running the trials.

Participating in the trial was an awesome experience. It took a little while to start because of COVID-19, but the time spent waiting for the email for me to come in just made me even more eager and excited to start. I had a few meetings, some in person and some virtual, before the trial started to make sure I was eligible and to get baseline levels.Following the selection process, I was selected to start the iLet system in spring of 2021. I was on the system for a total of three months and went into the clinic about once a month to troubleshoot any issues I was having, monitor my blood sugars, and provide feedback and any concerns I had. The only other work needed from me was weekly questionnaires that took less than 10 minutes to complete. Overall, it was a win-win situation. I got to be on a new insulin pump that drastically improved my A1C and the iLet is now FDA approved and commercially available because of my involvement. 

My experience in a clinical trial made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself and that I was making a difference in the management of this disease that has affected me for most of my life. I was expecting to feel like I was making some sort of sacrifice by dedicating my time to clinical trials, or some sort of hindrance in my everyday life, but it made my life better! I was continuously thanked for my contribution throughout the study, but it felt unnecessary. I felt so fulfilled to be able to have the opportunity to help further diabetes innovation.

I am so happy that I volunteered to be in a clinical trial. It was a very simple experience and was so worth it. My involvement truly made a difference, and I would definitely recommend this experience to anyone who can or is willing to be involved. 

For more information on clinical trials, check out clinicaltrials.gov or JDRF’s resources on finding a clinical trial near you 

Thank you to Vertex for sponsoring this article!


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