He was trying to help his sister and now a Brigham Young University science student may have invented a way to beat the high price of insulin. His invention – a machine that makes it.
ABC4 News found Conner Behr and his wife Anika at their small apartment on campus at BYU. Their living room doubles as the laboratory. The refrigerator doubles as the incubation chamber and the bedroom closet doubles as the supply storage facility. Conner has been working on his invention since he discovered his older sister, diagnosed with type one diabetes, was struggling to pay for her supplies of insulin, which has become nearly 400% more expensive in the fifteen years she has been dealing with the disease.
“I do science as a vehicle,” says the bright, young budding scientist, “because I love helping people.”
That desire to help other people with his knowledge grew from a family tragedy.
“When I was twelve, my aunt died of breast cancer,” said Conner. “And I kind of saw the devastation in my family because of that.”
While his family was grieving, young Conner was thinking.
“I started thinking about the things that I’d learned about the genome, and about DNA.”
A few years later, when his sister was diagnosed with type one diabetes, this BYU science student, studying microbiology went to work.
“So, this is a thermal cycler,” he explained, as he showed us his machinery, and how it works.
His thermal cycler rapidly heats and cools his “product,” as Conner calls it. He bought the device used, online, with money out of his own pocket, earned while working at a Walmart store.
This budding scientist also became an engineer and an inventor. He hand-built his own centrifuge, with parts from a hardware store. he then built what he calls a “Dead Air Box,” which he says provides a sterile environment.
“It allows me to purify my product,” said Conner.
An old electrophoresis completes the manufacturing process. Over months of work, this student claims he has assembled the machinery to produce insulin, and he has the samples to show for his work.
If all this seems unbelievable, the most incredible part of Connor
s story is what he plans to do with his insulin-making machines.
“We’re kind of hoping to give the insulin production to the people,” Conner explained, “instead of having it be a localized business. Giving someone a machine to produce insulin. That way they’re producing it themselves, and they can cut out the middle man altogether.”
Conner and Anika have started a GoFundMe page called the PhyR Project to try to raise funding for the remainder of the preliminary phase of their quest.
They’re getting moral support from the Hooley family of Brigham City, Utah, whose struggle has been documented by ABC4.com in our report entitled “Dillon’s Dilemma.” Dillon’s mother, Mindie, has become an outspoken advocate for insulin price relief, founding and heading the Utah Chapter of T1International, a worldwide movement that strives to provide affordable insulin for diabetics, many of whom are forced by high prices to ration or even stop taking their life-saving medication.
The Hooley’s tell their story on social media, of how Dillon almost died, before they discovered he was one of the millions of Americans with diabetes. You can read theirs and other stories here.