A few years ago I went on a jeep trip in the desert with friends. We drove old, open jeeps, two to three guys on each, and had all of our supplies with us. We had a great time with hardly any worries. Well, the truth is, I had one big worry – diabetes. I knew I could manage my blood sugar as long as I had a glucose meter and insulin. But what was happening to my insulin?
It was April and the days were hot and sunny with no shade. At night we slept outside in our sleeping bags, and the temperatures fell into the 40’s. At the time I was using insulin pens, which I stored in my backpack. I didn’t know if the extreme temperatures affected my insulin, or if the temperature fluctuations compromised it, but I do remember being very nervous about it.
It’s easy to remember that worry because I feel it every time I travel. I wonder where to pack my insulin vials. I try to stay in hotels that have a refrigerator in the room, but it isn’t always possible. The fact of the matter is, wherever I go, my insulin goes too, even if the temperatures are not ideal.
Now it looks like there is a good solution to this problem in a new device called ClimaPak. ClimaPak is portable device that regulates and monitors the temperature of insulin. You can take it camping, hiking and skiing or just use it to carry your insulin when you go to the office.
Climapak is eight inches tall, five inches wide, and three inches across. It weighs 22 ounces and holds either two vials of insulin, two insulin pens, or oone vial and one pen. It fits in a purse, handbag, or backpack.
Curious to learn more about this product and its development, I talked to Shayne O’Sullivan of Kewl Innovations about Climapak.
What’s the story behind ClimaPak? Why did you decide to develop the product?
The idea for ClimaPak started when the founder of Kewl Innovations, Mike Wilkinson, a type 2 diabetic, took a weekend trip to a boat show. Upon checking into his hotel, he was informed that there were no rooms with refrigerators available, even though he had requested one. By this time the ice pack he had traveled with was melted, and with no place to refreeze it and nowhere to store his insulin he had that ‘Ahh Haa!’ moment. Being an engineer who specializes in product development, Mike took to solving his own problem which lead to the start of Kewl Innovations and the development of ClimaPak.
How long has ClimaPak been in the works? Was it a long development process?
The development process has been quite rigorous. It stared in 2008 and there were a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the technology needed for portable climate control. The ClimaPak needed to be safe, reliable, affordable, and compact enough for people to integrate into their real lives. We wanted to craft a product that truly meets the needs of the folks that use it. That’s why we’ve taken our time developing it. We realized that it’s not just sound technology that makes something useful. Yes, our technology is capable of solving the problem, but there are so many little nuances to address when it comes to designing a product for diabetes. And while our primary objective has been to safely maintain the temperature of insulin, we had to create a solution that fits in with the rest of the diabetes management routine. That’s what ClimaPak offers.
How does Climapak function? Can you tell us about the technology?
ClimaPak uses an electrical charge to direct thermal energy away or towards the insulin stored inside. It doesn’t use fans or any other moving parts. If you look at the pictures, you’ll see a rigged black piece sitting under the zigzagging grill. The ClimaPak sends the heat into that black piece, and then disperses it into the air. When you reverse the current the opposite happens and the ClimaPak will actually warm your insulin, which could come in handy on the ski slopes, or during those harsh winter months.
We’ve also optimized battery life by programming the ClimaPak to operate within the prescribed window of temperature ranges for insulin (44-77 degrees F or 44-86 degrees F). Thus, we let the user set their ClimaPak to match their insulin, and then allow fluctuation of temperature within the range that is permitted safe.
What kind of test trials have you done?
Our founder, who has type 2 diabetes, has been a great guinea pig for us. He’s been using an earlier prototype for a couple of years now. He’s taken it through airport security, overseas, on camping trips, everywhere. We have a great shot of his prototype sitting in a beach chair in Saint Lucia! His experience has been extremely valuable in designing something that fits into the everyday life of someone living with diabetes.
Aside from our founder, we’ve done an extensive amount of research. We’ve done focus groups, surveyed people with diabetes, talked with diabetes educators and endocrinologists. Consistently we’ve seen that people are aware of the issue regarding proper storage for their insulin, but aren’t satisfied with the existing solutions that address the issue.
If ClimaPak were to malfunction, is there something to alert the user that the insulin may have been damaged?
Absolutely. Every ClimaPak has a digital display that tells the user the temperature of their insulin, remaining battery life, and sends an alert when their insulin is approaching critical temperature levels and when their battery is close to running out.
Is ClimaPak shock-proof? Waterproof? What happens if I drop it? Does it protect the insulin vial inside?
ClimaPak has no moving parts, which means it’s sturdy. The insulin pens and vials are suspended within the cooling chamber, which offers protecting from bumping against the inner walls of the chamber. We’re also developing a carrying case to offer further protection and allow users to stow the rest of their diabetes supplies alongside their ClimaPak.
Climapak is battery operated. How often does the user need to recharge the battery?
It really depends on how you are using it. In optimum conditions the ClimaPak will stay charged for 3-5 days. If you take it into extreme heat, it has to work harder, and the battery life shortens. We’ve designed it to get a full day of use even in the most extreme conditions
Do you see Climapak as a product for all diabetics or only for hikers, bikers, sailors?
We believe the ClimaPak is a crucial tool for practically anyone who uses insulin. While activities like hiking, biking, camping, and sailing, are perfect applications for the technology, ClimaPak is designed to fit into the everyday diabetes management routine. Insulin will start to degrade if it goes above 77 degrees F or 86 degrees F (depending on the type of insulin) those thresholds are surprisingly easy to push. For starters, our bodies are 96 degrees F, which means keeping insulin in your pocket is totally out of the question. Then you think about storing it in a backpack or purse, but those actually act as incubators especially when placed next to your body or out in the sun, they quickly go beyond the safe temperature range.
So it’s not just hiking and biking, etc. It’s the everyday stuff; running errands, going to work, watching your kids play sports. Without a ClimaPak, you’re either tied to a refrigerator, or you have to use a basic solution like ice or frozen gel packs. Those things are very limited and require time, effort and planning, which only adds to the chaos of managing diabetes. The ClimaPak allows you to solve one piece of the puzzle, without making things more complicated.
Can Climapak be used for medications other than insulin?
There are lots… certain vaccines, adrenaline, interferons, antivenoms, human growth hormones (HGH), coagulation factors, monoclonal antibodies, thyroid hormones, epipens, and medically-assisted procreation agents. Basically anything that comes in a vial or pen, and needs to stay in a range of 44-77 or 44-86 degrees F.
ClimaPak costs $199. Why is it so expensive? Production cost? Do you think you’ll be able to create a more affordable version?
The ClimaPak is very unique. It’s a totally customized solution, and there really isn’t anything out there to compare it to. Coolers and ice packs are obviously cheaper but the technology of a ClimaPak offers a far more advanced solution. It’s consistent, long lasting, reliable, and rechargeable. It saves you time and provides peace of mind that other solutions can’t.
Furthermore, we’ve talked to many diabetes educators who routinely instruct their clients to throw away insulin, because it may have spoiled due to temperature. At $100 a vial, that gets expensive really quick. ClimaPak eliminates the risk of damage from temperature, so you won’t have to throw away any more vials or pens. Plus, we believe there is a lot of value in saving people time and energy. Instead of spending time freezing gel packs, or packing a cooler, you can focus on the more immediate factors of managing diabetes.
Climapak is available for pre-order.
Michael Aviad is the co-founder is of ASweetLife. He writes the blog Diabetes – It’s an Endurance Sport.