Stevens Undergrad Designs Life-Saving Diabetes App Inspired by Personal Experience

Stevens’ Launchpad program supports Arianna Gehan ’24's dream of helping people with type 1 diabetes live independently with confidence

Biomedical engineering student Arianna Gehan ’24 was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was just 11 years old. As she grew up, her parents kept close track of her blood sugar levels, ready to take action in case of an emergency. But when she moved away from home to study at Stevens Institute of Technology, Gehan found herself fearful of managing the disease on her own if anything happened to go wrong.

So she developed Daia, an app connected to a popular continuous glucose monitoring system that can notify a friend in case a person with diabetes experiences a blood sugar emergency. Through Gehan’s participation in the Stevens entrepreneurial Launchpad program, the app is now in beta testing mode and is close to reaching the market via Apple’s App Store.

From personal experience to a marketable product 

Type 1 diabetes is a potentially life-threatening condition. If the person with diabetes has a drop or spike in blood sugar — as often happens, even with treatment — they can go into diabetic shock, which can lead to a coma or even death. Every activity — from an ordinary walk in the woods to a sleepover at a friend’s house — requires careful planning and oversight to keep the condition in check.

As a child, Gehan learned to manage her diabetes, and a monitor she wears, connected to the continuous glucose monitor, kept her parents informed of her blood sugar levels at every moment. If there was a spike or dip in her blood sugar, Gehan’s parents could step in instantly to remedy the situation or call emergency services.

When Gehan moved to Hoboken, however, she stopped sharing her blood sugar information with her parents. 

“I was too far away for them to take action if something happened,” Gehan said. “Plus, I wanted independence. I didn’t want my parents micromanaging my health condition.”

It soon became clear, however, that managing type 1 diabetes alone was not a wise or sustainable option.

“My parents weren’t aware of my blood sugar, and I wasn’t sharing my blood sugar values with anyone else,” she said. “It was a scary experience. There were so many new challenges with managing my diabetes when I was living independently.” 

The first time Gehan’s blood sugar dropped while living independently, she was alone in her dorm room. She quickly discovered she had a problem: Who would respond if she had a serious medical emergency? She realized she needed some kind of solution that could provide her with support without overloading her friends or classmates with constant information about her medical condition. 

The Daia app is born

Arianna Gehan ’24 and Frank Pinnola ’23 sit outdoors at a table with a banner that reads "Daia - live safer with diabetes"Arianna Gehan ’24 and Frank Pinnola ’23Photo: Arianna Gehan Although being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes “was not fun,” Gehan said, ”it really sparked my interest in bioengineering and healthcare. I wanted to help and contribute in some way.”

During her first year at Stevens, Gehan took an introductory coding class, and, as a final project, she built a basic app. Although only a simple calculator, it was a starting place for what would eventually become the Daia app. 

Believing that her idea had real value for many people with the same issues of living independently with diabetes, Gehan joined the Stevens Launchpad program. Launchpad is a 12-month program that provides students with the opportunity to learn entrepreneurship and innovation by working with real-world entrepreneurs in building new technology-based businesses.

Working with Launchpad director and teaching associate professor Mukundan Iyengar and graduate student Frank Pinnola ’23, Gehan was able to take her product to the next level. In August 2022 Gehan and Pinnola incorporated under the name Daia, pronounced “Day-ah.”

“When I was diagnosed, I had to take things one day at a time: each day I got to reset and refresh and take on new challenges,” Gehan explained. “So Daia is a play on the word ‘day.’ You always view your day from the point of view of diabetes.”

How the Daia app works

Similar to the alert system Gehan used when she was a child, Daia links to a small Dexcom-brand glucose monitor worn on the body — one of the most common continuous glucose monitors used by people with diabetes.

Unlike existing alert systems that provide a continuous stream of information 24-7 to a predetermined set of contacts, however, Daia can provide limited information to a select individual for a limited period of time. In other words, Daia users can ask a nearby friend to be an emergency contact temporarily for just a few hours. Daia makes updating contact information easy and does not bombard the contact with constant updates to every change in the user’s blood sugar.

To use the app, the user starts a session by first adding an emergency contact. The app alerts their contact, and the contact can then accept or deny the request. Rather than pinging the contact with every change in the user’s glucose level, Daia sends no information unless there is an emergency. If there is a serious change in the user’s glucose level, the contact is immediately informed of the location of the Daia user and the nature of the emergency. If no serious health event occurs, there’s no need for the friend to do anything more.

Gehan and Daia’s future

Arianna Gehan holds giant check while standing in a group in front of a sign that reads "Mission 50 Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition." The check is written from Mission 50 for $5000.Daia earned first place at the Mission 50 Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition in May 2022Photo: Arianna GehanMuch of the app development process has involved volunteer support through Launchpad. But there are aspects of business development that do require funding. Gehan and Pinnola received their first funds as a result of winning the Thomas H. Scholl Award, granted to the most promising programs within Launchpad during that year. 

The Daia team also participated in a May 2022 pitch competition in Hoboken, sponsored by the business incubator and coworking space Mission 50. There Gehan and Pinnola earned first place and received an award of $5,000. With their award money, the team purchased an Apple Developer account, incorporated their company, built a website and developed branding materials to raise awareness of their product.

With Daia up and running in beta testing, Gehan herself is feeling more secure as a person living independently with diabetes .

“I’m using the app a lot, which is so exciting. I know a few other [people with diabetes] on campus and from my hometown who use the Dexcom monitor, so they’ll be downloading the Daia app and giving us feedback about how they like it and how they’d like to use it,” she said. “We hope to launch it on the Apple App Store before this summer.”

Gehan notes that, in the future, she’d like to partner with Dexcom or other glucose monitoring companies to improve the app.

“This is something I’d love to work on beyond college — something I’m passionate about. It doesn’t feel like work: I enjoy working in the diabetes space,” she said. “I am using what I make and making it even better. If Daia were a full-time job, that would be incredible, but even if it’s a project in addition to [full-time] work, I don’t see myself stopping.”

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