By Ingrid Hernandez

On Friday, Nov. 18, the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) hosted the first “Diabetes Awareness Day” event at FIU’s Modesto Maidique Campus with support from StartUp FIU team and Dr. Sahar Ajabshir, Assistant Professor in the Department of Cellular Biology and Pharmacology. BME faculty Dr. Anuradha Godavarty, Ph.D., was the key organizer and moderator of the event attended by students and faculty from BME and other departments and colleges within FIU. This event was a chance to teach the BME community the importance of diabetes and its treatment within biomedical engineering.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in their 2022 National Diabetes Statistics Report that a total of 37.3 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes, with 28.7 million people being diagnosed while the remaining 8.5 million are undiagnosed. Additionally, the CDC found that people with less education were more likely to have diagnosed diabetes. “With the increasing number of people with diabetes around the world, it’s very important that we spread awareness,” said Professor Godavarty. “There are a lot of people who work in the field of diabetes at FIU, so why not just bring everybody under one roof and do something to bring awareness?”

The BME Department welcomed keynote speaker Dr. David Brown, Professor, Chief of the Division of Family and Community Medicine; Vice Chair Humanities, Health, and Society, who spoke about the social determinants of diabetes and general health, facts and risk factors for diabetes, and how social determinants of health led to the production of diabetes in the Marshall Islands. Dr. Brown also presented a smartphone app that his group is creating to address social determinants of health, alongside Maria Diaz, a doctoral student involved in the app’s development. “There are a number of different faculty and teams that are working on diabetes and trying to generate more interest and collaboration around it,” said Dr. Brown regarding the motivation to participate in the Diabetes Awareness Day Event.

After the keynote speech, the department welcomed panelists Dr. Fatma Huffman, from the Department of Dietetics & Nutrition, who answered questions regarding nutrition, diet, and health disparities; Dr. Noël Barengo, Division of Medical and Population Health Sciences Education and Research; Associate Professor, Translational Medicine; Department of Health Policy and Management, who spoke about the prevention and treatment of Type 2 diabetes; and Assistant Professor Dr. Joshua Hutcheson, from the BME department, who spoke about how diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and what can be done to monitor cardiovascular health with diabetes. Dr. Godavarty also presented her own team’s research related to diabetic foot ulcers and the development of their “OnTheSpot” smartphone app for patients to take pictures of their foot ulcers and systematically share with their clinicians about their conditions and get customized care during the treatment.

Towards the end of the event, Dr. John Volakis, Dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, and Dr. Jorge Riera-Diaz, Interim Chair of the BME department, gave closing remarks regarding the importance of this event and of bringing awareness to diabetes research alongside other diseases, how diabetes has affected their loved ones, and the bright futures that BME students interested in this field have ahead of them.

Students from various organizations presented interactive exhibits to educate attendees about various aspects of diabetes. The Optical Imaging Laboratory (OIL) displayed technology that is currently used to monitor and manage diabetes and emerging technology in the future, as well as a dart game to hit subcutaneous injection areas for insulin. The Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) had an activity page explaining diabetes, a quiz to see what risk factors guests have in Type 2 diabetes and compare results with others, and a game to guess how much sugar is in certain foods. The Medical Students Working to Improve Society & Health (MedSWISH) showed the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, their consequences, and how to screen for them to prevent these consequences. The Med School Mindfulness student organization offered pamphlets with nutrition tips to implement in everyday life. Lastly, the Association for Graduate Students in Dietetics & Nutrition (AGSDN) and the Student Dietetics Association (SDA) had a ChooseMyPlate exhibit where guests built their own plates of food and won prizes for participating.

The BME department plans to hold another event in 2023 for Diabetes Awareness Day.