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According to the American Diabetes Association, millions of people around the world live with diabetes or know someone living with the disease. The majority have type 2 diabetes, but type 1 diabetes occurs in roughly 5 percent of all patients.
Type 1 diabetes occurs at every age, in people of every race (although caucasians have proven to be more affected, for genetic reasons), and of every shape and size. Although previously known as juvenile diabetes, more adults than children now have type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes means that the affected body can’t produce insulin. The body breaks down the carbohydrates we ingest into blood glucose (blood sugar), then transforms them into energy. In order to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells, the body needs insulin. In type 1 diabetes, insulin has to be artificially introduced. With it, even young children eventually learn to manage their condition.
American Diabetes Association has data revealing that about 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes and an estimated 40,000 people will be newly diagnosed each year in the U.S.
Type 1 diabetics and their families have been searching for tools to help them monitor blood glucose levels and adjust insulin intake. There are good tech solutions for some diabetes issues, but not a single one addresses all the problems.
To put it quite simply, a diabetic patient needs to know what his/her blood glucose levels are at any given moment. If you don’t want to prick your finger all the time, you need a continuous glucose monitoring system (CGM), Dexcom or Medtronic being the available solutions. You also need an Iphone or an Android operating smartphone, since a European team recently created an app for Android phones and cracked the code in a popular pump from Roche Holding AG. You need an insulin pump and a mini-computer to tie all the pieces together.
Basically, diabetes patients or family members have to learn about and set up these contraptions by themselves, thus creating an artificial pancreas of sorts.
Kate Farnsworth’s daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 8-years-old. Two years ago, Farnsworth created an artificial pancreas for her daughter,when she became desperate to find a solution that would allow them to sleep through the night and manage other aspects of a teenager’s active life. Her daughter, who is now 15, is still using an updated version of the DIY system her mom built. A fellow DIYer donated the pump, so the whole system ended up costing only $250 to make.
Kate was not the only one to try this system. Other diabetes patients, some of them doctors, tried it and are also using the system and giving feedback. Jeremy Pettus, MD, explains how it works and lists the benefits, as well as the downsides of the loop system. Pettus underlines that the system is not FDA approved, so the only way to have one is to do it yourself.
Times are changing and unusual paths are leading to innovative patient assists. Some companies have created video-games to help treat ADHD in children, others now take inspiration from patients. After years during which diabetes patients had to fend for themselves if they wanted an artificial pancreas, an industrial solution presents itself.
A leading tech medical company makes important steps toward building a closed loop technology that will automate insulin delivery.
TypeZero is developing what it calls the InControl system (formerly named the DiA, or Diabetes Assistance). The system is exactly what patients have been doing by themselves so far: an algorithm, run on a smartphone app that communicates with an insulin pump and CGM, which is able to automatically adjust basal and bolus insulin as needed.
The good news is Dexcom will not lock users into any specific product brand.
Dexcom and TypeZero say their first-gen InControl system will be on the market in 2019. It is going to use a Tandem t:slim X2 insulin pump, because its creators have partnered with TypeZero since 2016. That’s a step beyond the Basal-IQ system that Tandem just launched in August 2018. Tandem has also confirmed its hybrid closed loop with the InControl algorithm will be launched early 2019.
It remains to be seen whether this system could be industrially created and put on the market with an affordable price, since, as patients often complain, some insurance companies don’t cover CGMs, or at least not all of them. Hopefully, the near future will bring better news concerning this issue. People with diabetes need such a device, as much as they need an integrated system to help them live better, longer, and depend less on the healthcare system.