Koala’s diabetes treatment may lend insights to helping humans

A group of San Diego-based experts came together June 1, 2018 to help a koala with diabetes at the San Diego Zoo.


Quincy the Queensland koala has been equipped with the latest blood sugar monitor in hope of quelling a quandary for the diabetic marsupial.

Experts from the San Diego Zoo teamed up with glucose monitor maker Dexcom and Scripps Health to help Quincy, who has Type 1 (insulin deficient) diabetes.

Instead of having his furry ear pricked several times a day, Quincy now just needs to accept having a sensor implanted under his skin once every 10 days. The sensor wirelessly transmits readings every five minutes.


Humans may even be helped by the knowledge gained in this first-of-a-kind treatment for an animal.

On June 1, Quincy received the glucose monitoring system, which was recently approved for humans by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dexcom, which donated the system, hasn’t disclosed what it will cost. Scripps Health is testing the G6 system as a replacement for frequent finger pricks in patients who can’t verbalize.

Quincy came to San Diego from the Los Angeles Zoo, where his diabetes was first diagnosed — a rarity among the sleepy, tree-dwelling eucalyptus-eaters native to coastal eastern Australia.

Despite their placid appearance, koalas can get touchy about being disturbed. But frequent glucose measurements are essential to maintaining levels close to normal. Too much blood glucose, or hyperglycemia, damages the body. Too little, or hypoglycemia, can cause faintness, unconsciousness or even death.

Quincy was insulin deficient, said Dr. Athena Philis-Tsimikas of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute, and he needed injections and frequent blood glucose testing.

The new monitoring system’s wireless transmissions enable keepers to be notified of Quincy’s status without having to disturb his sleep.


Working with Quincy is somewhat like working with people who can’t talk or explain well how they’re feeling, Philis-Tsimikas said. Patients may be unconscious, or too young to articulate their symptoms, she said. In such cases, blood glucose is the main metric for their condition.

Moreover, many different kinds of insulin are available, she said. They have different properties, such as the speed of absorption and action. So their effect must be closely monitored. As it happens, koalas absorb insulin much as do humans.

Fikes writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.