Charlie Iacono barely remembers a time before life with type 1 diabetes – he was diagnosed at just 4 years old.
“I was formally diagnosed right before Christmas, spent about two weeks in the hospital, had countless thumb pricks, finger pricks, and shots, and was released on my mother’s birthday, which is also Christmas Eve,” says Charlie. “It was a nice birthday present for my mom.”
Charlie has seen a wide range of changes in blood sugar management, and in turn he’s leveraged his personal experience and professional accomplishments toward helping people like him. This year, he joined T1D Exchange as our managing director of commercial partnerships and advancement, after serving as executive director of leadership and campaign giving at Belmont Abbey College and associate executive director for the New England Chapter of JDRF.
Living through the evolution of diabetes technology
Like many people who’ve lived with diabetes from an early age, Charlie has seen and experienced massive changes in how diabetes is treated, and the technologies available for blood sugar management. When he was first diagnosed, for example, the local hospital didn’t have lancet injectors, so the nurses had to use a sterilized sewing needle to do a fingerstick.
This was also the era before truly modern, accurate meters. Testing meant applying blood to a strip and then waiting for colors to appear — light blue meant you were very low, while dark green indicated a severe high.
Charlie identifies three key technologies that revolutionized diabetes treatment for him. The first was the Monoject, a spring-loaded and self-contained syringe in a cylinder that made it much easier to take shots. After that, he says, it was a glucose meter that could read blood sugar levels at the blistering speed of under 45 seconds.
“I thought that was the coolest thing,” he says. “It was small, so I could fit it in my backpack.”
Now, he says, it’s his insulin pump and continuous glucose meter (CGM) technology that makes the difference for him. He currently uses Insulet’s Omnipod tubeless insulin pump and Dexcom’s G6 CGM. He says he soon will transition to the new Omnipod DASH pump, which recently gained FDA approval and has just been commercially released by Insulet.
“Every generation of new technology lightens the burden of type 1 diabetes,” he says. “The DASH is Insulet’s third-generation pump, so it will be an innovative piece of technology that has the potential to change how we as a community go about living with type 1 without limits.”
Finding a cause that matters
Initially, Charlie had no desire to work in the field of type 1 diabetes partnerships, research, and advocacy. This changed when he became a father. He recalls a hot summer night when his then-infant son grabbed his pod – his tubeless insulin pump – and held onto it.
“He probably was wondering in his little mind what that was, and thankfully it didn’t come off, so kudos to the company for making the strong adhesive,” Charlie says. “I thought to myself, ‘He could eventually have type 1 diabetes, and I need to get into this fight and do my part to treat, prevent, and, ultimately, cure type 1 diabetes.’”
The path forward for Charlie seemed clear after that. One morning soon afterwards, he opened up his computer and typed in “career opportunities at JDRF”. Shortly afterwards, he became the associate director of JDRF’s New England chapter.
“And that’s where my love affair with the type 1 diabetes community began, and it has now grown to encompass the local, national, and global T1D communities,” he says.
At T1D Exchange, Charlie is working to help build strong commercial partnerships and tell important stories that support the organization’s quest to conduct innovative research and improve clinical outcomes. Charlie’s goal is to fuel innovation and provide a valuable resource for people with type 1 diabetes and their families, and, in turn, to provide an opportunity for the community to provide its voice to the creation of the next generation of type 1 diabetes technology.
“Every day, I want to make the way forward easier for everyone with type 1 diabetes,” he says. “I’m not a scientist, doctor, or CDE, but I can bring people together to foster innovation while creating meaningful change for all involved.”