A number of medical device companies, such as Medtronic and Johnson and Johnson, have what are in effect artificial pancreases in various stages of development. The Medtronic model just completed human trials and is now undergoing FDA approval, a process that, even though it is on a fast track, will take two years. But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, some families with technology smarts are not waiting for the government. Using a concept called OpenAPS, developed by Dana Lewis, a woman living with type 1 diabetes in Seattle, some are building their own artificial pancreases and are using them with some success.
The home-built artificial pancreases consist of an outdated pump that injects insulin under the skin, a radio stick, a glucose monitor, a computer motherboard, and a battery pack. The glucose monitor communicates with the insulin pump, which then injects as needed, depending on blood glucose levels. Because the project is open source, and users are expected to build their own models, these do-it-yourself artificial pancreases fall outside the FDA’s regulatory purview.
Jason Calabrese, a software engineer, built and tested a model for his young son Andrew, who has type 1 diabetes, with his doctor’s approval. Andrew still has to have his insulin manually administered before every meal. Pump failures and tube blockages are still a problem. But the homemade device, the size of a shoebox, has allowed the boy some measure of independence at school and while sleeping.
Of course, the solution is a stopgap and only recommended for families with some technological expertise with the approval of a doctor. Eventually, the wheels of government bureaucracy will turn enough so that commercial artificial pancreases will be available.
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