Scripps Lends Expertise To Help Ailing Koala with Diabetes

Endocrinologist helps zoo put care plan together

Quincy the koala is wearing a continuous glucose monitoring device on his back to help manage his type 1 diabetes.

A San Diego Zoo veterinarian uses an iPhone app to read data from the continuous glucose monitoring device on Quincy the koala, who has type 1 diabetes.

Copyrighted photo taken June 15, 2018, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo

Endocrinologist helps zoo put care plan together

Scripps endocrinologist Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, has seen many diabetes patients during her long career – but never a furry one like Quincy.

Quincy is a male koala at the San Diego Zoo who was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The gray marsupial requires insulin injections, which are based on his blood sugar level.

“This is an incredibly unique situation. There are not a lot of koalas that have diabetes in the world,” said Dr. Tsimikas, corporate vice president of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute.

A group of San Diego-based experts that included Dr. Tsimikas recently came together to help the ailing koala, who has an insulin deficiency type of diabetes.

Quincy requires insulin to control his blood sugar levels and make sure he gets the energy needed to help him build muscle, gain weight and stay healthy. Hypoglycemia – abnormally low blood sugar – is a safety concern, so it is vital that he receives the right doses of insulin.

Why continuous glucose monitoring sensors work

Dr. Tsimikas helped develop a care plan for Quincy that aimed to improve the ability of his caretakers to manage his blood sugar levels through the use of a continuous glucose monitoring sensor.

Zoo animal care staff recently placed the Dexcom G6 Continuous Glucose Monitoring System on Quincy. Dr. Tsimikas, who was present, marveled at how this new technology made for humans by San Diego-based Dexcom could also be applied to an animal in need.

“Human treatments don’t always translate into the animal world,” Dr. Tsimikas said. “But there are treatments that can translate well to animals, and the continuous glucose monitoring sensor is one of these.”

No more pricking

The continuous glucose monitoring device that Quincy now wears uses a sensor and transmitter that sends blood glucose levels in real time to a smart device monitored by caretakers.

Dr. Tsimikas will be monitoring the data from the continuous glucose sensor remotely through a Dexcom app on her iPhone and will continue consulting with the zoo veterinarian team on how to move forward with treatment of Quincy.

With the device, Quincy’s veterinarians will no longer need to prick his ears or toes multiple times a day to test his blood glucose levels. The monitoring system has built-in alerts and alarms that will notify Quincy's caretakers before his glucose reaches dangerous levels.

Furthermore, because koalas normally sleep during the day and are solitary animals, the sensor will allow his caretakers to get more information about Quincy’s blood glucose while reducing the number of times they need to disturb him.

“Quincy’s story is interesting because you have a patient that can’t talk to you and tell you what’s going on and how he is feeling," Dr. Tsimikas said. “What we’re doing with Quincy is an example of how we can use the technology to tell us what’s going on in his daily life and then be able to deliver the right medication to treat him.”

Learning from Quincy

Just like Quincy, people with diabetes can use devices like the Dexcom G6 Continuous Glucose Monitoring System to track their glucose levels from a mobile device, providing around-the-clock safety and peace of mind.

Dr. Tsimikas said a research study is currently under way at Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista and Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego, where continuous glucose monitoring devices are being used on diabetes patients who have difficulty communicating for a variety of reasons.

“We can monitor and learn from Quincy. We can also translate that to our patients in the hospital in how we might need to treat them as well,” Dr. Tsimikas said.

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