Meet the Woman Behind Lyfebulb + The Innovation Summit

6/30/17
WRITTEN BY: Alexi Melvin
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The Lyfebulb – NovoNordisk Innovation Summit will be taking place for the second time in Copenhagen, Denmark this coming November.

The event sets out to recognize international Patient Entrepreneurs, and selects 10 finalists to attend. These entrepreneurs are people living with diabetes or closely related to someone with diabetes, who are developing innovative visions that will impact the world of diabetes management.

“This year we are taking it to the next level,” said Karin Hehenberger, MD, PhD, and Founder/CEO of LyfebulbIn addition to picking 10 finalists selected from a large group of applicants who will get to go to Copenhagen and interact with Novo and Lyfebulb, this year we will also bring in venture capitalists and senior RD executives to give feedback on their ideas. There will also be a monetary prize of $25,000 USD to the first place winner, $15,000USD to the second place winner and $10,000USD to the third place winner.

Karin was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes herself while playing tennis in Sweden at age 16. After nearly twenty years with the disease, she developed complications from her T1D, and required a kidney transplant, which she received from her father. In 2010, she also received a pancreas transplant, which Karin notes is not a common procedure.

“It was unfortunate that I deteriorated so quickly at a relatively young age, got but I was still physically strong from my many years of being an athlete,  facilitating my recovery from the surgeries,” Karin said.

Although she no longer needs insulin, she will have to take immunosuppressants for the rest of her life.

 “If I don’t take the immunosuppressants, my body will attack the new pancreas and kill the healthy beta-cells,” Karin said. She also explained that both the kidney and pancreas could be rejected and that she would need to go back on insulin and start dialysis, if that were to happen.

From the moment of her diagnosis, Karin made the decision that she was going to be an integral part of finding a cure for diabetes. She remains optimistic today that there will be a cure in the very near future.

“When I was diagnosed in ’89 – I did not think there would be a cure in my lifetime. Now, I can imagine in the next 10 or so years, we will have some sort of cell therapy with a protective device and/or targeted immune therapy that will cure the disease,” she said.

“We know that Type 1 is an autoimmune disease which is relapsing-remitting – similarly to celiac disease or MS. If we could find a way to either stimulate the existing cells or replace them easily, and simultaneously prevent the immune system from destroying them, then we could cure the disease and even prevent it from ever happening.”

After her diagnosis, Hehenberger went to medical school and earned a PhD  at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and completed her postdoctorate in Diabetes at the Joslin Center at Harvard. She also spent 15 years in the financial industry and on the operations side of companies including JNJ and Eyetech. After her transplants, Karin began to notice that there was a lack of organizations that focused on short-term and on enjoying life despite living with a chronic illness. She also saw the need to invest in innovation to remove the disease burden long-term. 

“I wanted to create an organization that was inspiring and innovative and encouraged people to live life at their fullest,” she said.

It was this realization, that lead to the birth of Lyfebulb. 

“At Lyfebulb we bridge patient communities with industry and we empower individuals to take charge of their health and their future,” Karin explained. “When you live with a chronic disease, you often feel a loss of control. However, certain individuals, like our patient entrepreneurs and ambassadors, have found ways to take charge by identifying issues that affect their management and have created products and services to improve them. Not only do they develop and/or better products, but they also inspire change in others and ultimately impact lives through their innovations.”

Thrilled with Lyfebulb’s recent partnership with NovoNordisk, and having already connected with an oncology company, Helsinn, Karin aims to continue to expand Lyfebulb’s collaboration by reaching out to other companies that focus on illnesses such as eye disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

“If we can channel the ‘lived experience’ to the benefit of everyone, it can be incredibly powerful.”

Apply today to the Innovation Summit.


Read about Jerry the Bear – an innovative tech toy for teaching Type 1 diabetes.



Alexi Melvin

Alexi Melvin is a freelance journalist, fiction writer and screenwriter based in the Bay Area. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2003, and has been passionate about raising awareness ever since. Her other passions include film, literature, animals and spiritual healing. Instagram: @alexi_rm