by Rick Mendosa
The interview with Charlie was extremely productive. Not only does he have a wonderful memory but he also led me to the first patient to use a blood glucose meter. Then he led me — by a circuitous route — to the meter’s inventor, Tom Clemens. He didn’t know where Tom was any more, but told me that his daughter, who happens to be the First Lady of Nebraska (Stephanie Johans, the wife of the state’s governor), was a good friend of Tom’s daughter Martina Clemens. Charlie called Stephanie for me and got Martina’s phone number, and she gave me Tom’s number.
Telephone Interview With Charles A. Suther
September 16, 1999
Charlie begins: Starting at the very beginning, Ames developed and introduced in 1965 a product called Dextrostix®. These were paper strips to which you added a drop of blood, timed it for 1 minute and washed it off. They developed a blue color and you read that color by comparing it to a color chart. It gave you an approximation of the blood glucose level. People who did it on a regular basis frequently got to read Dextrostix strips very well. But for most people because of limited usage you could know if it was very high or very low but in between it could be anything. Dextrostix were designed primarily for doctor’s offices. Ames had been making urine strips and this was their first excursion into blood glucose strips.
Then in 1970 realizing that the Dextrostix were difficult to use, one of the scientists developed a reflectance meter. That is a meter that could read reflected light.
Who was that? Anton H. Clemens. He developed the first blood glucose meter. And it was simply a light meter that read reflected light. The same Dextrostix were used and the concept was that you play a beam of light on that blue color and the darker the blue the less light would be reflected.
I guess that it didn’t give you a number? Oh, yes, it did. That reflected light was sent to a photoelectric cell, which in turn gave a read out, which in this case was a meter with a swinging needle. Since the instrument was more able to read the minor changes in the reflection of the darkness and lightness of the shade of blue it added a certain degree of accuracy. In other words, Dextrostix had been out there for 5 years and now suddenly somebody developed an instrument to read them.
Who developed the Dextrostix? Almost all the stuff developed at Ames Company — and Ames at that time was a division of Miles Laboratories, the Alka-Seltzer people. Ames disappeared, became Miles Diagnostics, and then Bayer bought Miles. So Ames Company, or what’s left of it, is now part of Bayer.
So their Glucometers have the oldest history? That’s right. They have the history of being the first, the oldest.
What individual was responsible for the Dextrostix? Ernie Adams was the guy at the workbench who invented the Dextrostix. It would be interesting to see whose name the patent is in. [The Dextrostix patent, No. 3,092,465, issued June 4, 1963, is in the name Adams et al.]
Were you there at Ames? Yes, I was there just after Dextrostix were introduced. I started as a sales rep and was later the product manager and still later market manager responsible for diabetes products, including Dextrostix and other diabetes products. That was from 1968-1976 or around there, and I introduced that first reflectance meter.
By the way — they will miss it in a trivia quiz; the name of the first meter was A.R.M., the Ames Reflectance Meter. Because it was a pioneer kind of instrument there were a lot of drawbacks and problems with it. [Anton Clemens writes, “The ‘problems’ with the ARM was the lead acid battery. We should remember that rechargeable batteries, at that time, had not evolved to the higher tech standards we now take for granted.”] Next to the A.R.M. suddenly the Japanese developed an instrument. They called it the Eyetone. The Japanese developed it and brought it to the United States, showed it to Ames Company, and at that point they entered into a marketing agreement. Ames introduced the Eyetone but they didn’t develop it.
What Japanese company was that? I believe — I’m sure — it was Kyoto Daiichi.
What year was the Eyetone introduced? About 1972. It came right on the heals [of the A.R.M.]. It showed up very quickly, whereas it took Ames years to develop the first one. But they didn’t violate any patents in doing it (and they sold distribution rights to Ames).
That was a swinging needle too.