Chances are, Australians with diabetes will know who Stanley Clarke is, especially those who have many years of diabetes under their belt. Pretty much every person with diabetes who checks their glucose levels is benefiting from his legacy. 

If you don’t know who he is, or his story, and don’t get Circle, let me give you a little taste of this remarkable man and his contribution to diabetes as we know it today.

I was thrilled to read a beautiful profile of Stanley in this month’s edition of Circle magazine, the quarterly magazine from Diabetes Australia. (And by way of disclosure I am employed for Diabetes Australia, and I write an article for each edition of the mag.)

The latest edition of Circle Magazine

Stanley and his wife Audrey’s daughter Lisa was diagnosed with diabetes in 1972, aged 5 years. As was the norm at the time, she relied upon the only option for checking glucose levels at the time: using Benedict’s solution, drops of urine and colour charts to provide highly inaccurate and misleading results. That was as good as it got!

Stanley was an electronics engineer, and he knew that there had to be a better way. In fact, he’d seen the better way – machines that were available in hospitals that checked glucose in the blood. But these machines were large, and very expensive and not considered part of routine, daily, at home care for people with diabetes. Stanley set about to change that.   

He worked to develop a smaller, portable, battery-operated blood glucose machine and in two weeks had a prototype that he was ready to show his daughter’s paediatric endocrinologist. The endocrinologist, diabetes legend, Martin Silink, was impressed and ordered 30 and then an additional 200 machines to be given to children at the hospital. Apparently, within six months, every child with diabetes at the hospital had a home glucose meter, and monitoring blood glucose levels was part of their routine, changing their diabetes management forever. 

Clarke machines were ordered and sent to all corners of the globe as people with diabetes everywhere were keen to be able to access this new technology which improved outcomes and reduced diabetes burden. 

The machines were sold for what it cost Stanley to make them. He wasn’t interested in making a profit – only in that the machines were available and accessible to people with diabetes. 

I read the beautifully written tribute to Stanley in Circle, getting a bit teary at some of the beautiful stories of people who had benefited from this new technology. And my reading was also tinged with a sense of familiarity. I didn’t have diabetes when his home blood glucose meters became common, but I certainly did benefit from it. 

Even more so, I have benefitted from the ingenuity of people directly affected by diabetes. The #WeAreNotWaiting movement is built on the shoulders of people like Stanley and it continues to push boundaries and seek solutions for diabetes problems that we know matter. We know they are problems because we live with the consequences of them every minute of every day. We celebrate when the solutions are presented to us because we know what a difference they will make. 

I remember hearing Dana Lewis speak about her work that meant she could actually hear her CGM alarm at a volume that woke her up at night, and understanding why that was something so critical. 

I remember hearing about Nightscout for the first time, and how one of the benefits of remote monitoring meant that parents felt more confident allowing their kids to have sleepovers at friends’ houses, and understood just why that made all the difference to kids with diabetes.

I remember hearing someone tell me all about using DIYAPS, and I understood not only why it was a vast improvement on commercial diabetes therapies, but it made me determined to build a system for myself. And how glad I am that I did!

I find it unbelievable, and more than a little tragic, that at the same time that there is this incredible user-led innovation happening, there is also pushback. The opposition takes many forms, but it seems to come back to the same thing, and that is the discomfort of many working in healthcare and their reluctance to trust what people directly affected by diabetes are capable of. 

I wrote in this piece a few years ago about the predictable way that many HCPs recoil from new therapies. There are reasons thrown around for that: no money to fund it; no evidence to support it; safety concerns. 

But money doesn’t seem to be the driving factor propelling the innovators forward (a nod to Simon Lewinson who has been providing re-batteried CGM transmitters to people in Australia meaning that for them, that therapy is actually affordable). Safety is always the primary concern for those of us using these technologies, and to suggest otherwise is an insult. And the evidence is there, perhaps just not in expensive RCTs, which need to stop being considered as the be all, end all. 

Stanley Clarke changed the way that day-to-day diabetes was managed and so have others since then. And all I can think of is that we are so, so fortunate to have innovators like that whose only motivation it seems is to improve a life lived with diabetes. What a truly remarkable goal to have.