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Inventor Finds Sweet Spot for Diabetics
Where do great ideas come from? For Eran Bashan, a casual conversation over Shabbat dinner four years ago evolved into both a new invention and a company to market it.
Because the Ann Arbor resident is known for his love of riddles and problems, that evening his friend, endocrinologist Israel Hodish, gave him a doozey to solve: Seek out a better way for diabetic patients to self-test their blood sugar and adjust their insulin levels.
(Ideally, diabetics would have their blood work analyzed on a weekly basis, but requiring patients to visit their physicians that often is neither practical or economical.)
“I am not a diabetic, and I didn’t know much about diabetes,” says Bashan, 40, who was born and raised in Israel and, at that time, was studying for his doctorate in electrical engineering at the University of Michigan. “But I love to solve problems, and I don’t like to see inefficiency, especially in health care.”
Bashan and Hodish went to work on the issue and, within months, developed a Diabetes Insulin Guidance System (DIGS), a device that uses innovative software to analyze blood sugar levels and tell patients how much insulin they should give themselves based on their body chemistry.
DIGS is expected to make its debut early next year in Europe, where the company is on track to clear regulatory hurdles for the product. Bashan’s Ann Arbor-based startup is called Hygieia, which is Greek for health. The company already has seven employees who are gearing up for the launch.
The new product, which is about the size of a cell phone, could lead to substantial health care cost savings and, more importantly, potential health benefits for the user.
“Diabetics are currently self-testing, but months often go by before their doctors see the data,” says Bashan. “By then, the data is often too old or too voluminous to be of real value.” He added that blood sugar levels can change rapidly, so timely changes in insulin levels could make a big difference in diabetics’ day-to-day health. Bashan grew up in the northern Israeli town of Lohamei HaGeta’ot and moved to Ann Arbor at age 33. In Israel, he obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, worked in consumer electronics in Tel Aviv and served seven years in the military as a field officer and company commander in the Armored Corps.
Growing up in Israel taught him resiliency and resourcefulness, he says. Both have come in handy during the launch of his startup company, which was formed in August 2008 — two weeks before the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
He has already raised $1.5 million to fund his venture and has a goal of raising $6 million by the end of this year. One investment came from Ann Arbor-based Michigan Life Ventures, which has a minority stake in the company.
Bashan, expects the DIGS device to start reaching patients through doctor recommendations; the devices will be provided free, with revenue generated from selling the test strips. Bashan projects sales of $3 million in the first year with sales reaching $75 million within three years.
Diabetes affects nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States, and contributes to the deaths of more than 231,000 Americans each year.
Hygieia received a $340,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to help fund a clinical trial with 46 patients in Minneapolis. Bashan and his team presented the findings last month at the American Diabetes Association’s 71st Annual Scientific Sessions in San Diego.
“Persistence is important, but so is listening to what other people have to say. When they tell you why something won’t work, listen — you could learn something — but stay persistent.”