Hacking Diabetes Meters, Towards an Artificial Pancreas

We’ve covered a number of diabetes-related hacks in the past, but this project sets its goals especially high. [Tim] has diabetes and needs to monitor his blood glucose levels and administer insulin accordingly. As a first step, he and a community of other diabetics have been working on Android apps to log the data when combined with a self-made Bluetooth re-transmitter.

But [Tim] is taking his project farther than previous projects we’ve seen and aiming at eventually driving an insulin pump directly from the app. (Although he’s not there yet, and user input is still required.) To that end, he’s looking into the protocols that control the dosage pumps.

We just read about [Tim] in this article in the Guardian which covers the diabetic-hacker movement from a medical perspective — the author currently runs a healthcare innovation institute and is a former British health minister, so he’s not a noob. One passage made us pause a little bit. [Tim] speaks the usual praises of tech democratization through open source and laments “If you try to commercialize [your products], you run up against all sorts of regulatory barriers.” To which the author responds, “This should ring alarm bells. Regulatory barriers are there for a reason.”

We love health hacking, and we’re sure that if we had a medical condition that could be helped by constant monitoring, that we’d absolutely want at least local smart-phone logging of the relevant data. But how far is too far? We just ran an article on the Therac-25 case study in which subtle software race conditions ended up directly killing people. We’d maybe hesitate a bit before we automated the insulin pump, but perhaps we’re just chicken.

The solution suggested by [Lord Ara Darzi] in the Guardian piece is to form collaborations between patients motivated by the DIY spirit, and the engineers (software and hardware) who would bring their expertise, and presumably a modicum of additional safety margin, to the table. We like that a lot. Why don’t we see more of that?

The Biohacking Movement and Open Source Insulin

In March of 2014, I knew my eight year old daughter was sick. Once borderline overweight, she was now skeletally thin and fading away from us. A pre-dawn ambulance ride to the hospital gave us the devastating news – our daughter had Type 1 diabetes, and would be dependent on insulin injections for the rest of her life.

This news hit me particularly hard. I’ve always been a preparedness-minded kind of guy, and I’ve worked to free myself and my family from as many of the systems of support as possible. As I sat in the dark of the Pediatric ICU watching my daughter slowly come back to us, I contemplated how tied to the medical system I had just become. She was going to need a constant supply of expensive insulin, doled out by a medical insurance system that doesn’t understand that a 90-day supply of life-saving medicine is a joke to a guy who stocks a year supply of toilet paper. Plus I had recently read an apocalyptic novel where a father watches his 12-year old diabetic daughter slip into a coma as the last of her now-unobtainable insulin went bad in an off-grid world. I swore to myself that I’d never let this happen, and set about trying to find ways to make my own insulin, just in case.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: The Chocometer

Diabetes affects almost 400 million people worldwide, and complications due to diabetes – blindness, cardiovascular disease, and kidney problems – can be reduced by regular monitoring of blood glucose. The usual way of measuring blood glucose is with a pin prick of blood and a small test strip that costs about $0.30. That’s a lot of test strips and blood used by 400 million diabetics every day. Wouldn’t it be better if there was a less invasive way of measuring blood glucose?

[marcelclaro]’s project for The Hackaday Prize aims to do just that. Instead of measuring blood directly, his project will measure blood glucose by shining light through a finger or an earlobe. Using light to detect blood glucose is something that has been studied in the lab, but so far, there aren’t any products on the market that use this technique.

There are two major problems [marcel] needs to overcome to turn this project into reality. The first is simply raw data for calibration. For [marcel], this is easy; he has Type 1 diabetes, and takes four glucose measurements a day. Patient heal thyself, or something.

The second problem is getting a photosensor that’s sensitive enough. By using an InGaAs PIN diode, a current-controlled oscillator, and a digital counter, [marcel] should have a sensor that’s good enough, with electronics that are cheap enough, to create some tech that is truly game changing for a few hundred million people around the world.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

THP Hacker Bio: John Costik

A surprising amount of entries for The Hackaday Prize are medical devices, and the regulatory problems associated with that domain. [John Costik]’s Diabetes Data, Everywhere is one of the few projects that is perfect for a world where the words ‘hack’ and ‘FDA’ simply cannot be found in the same sentence.

[John]’s son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at a very young age, and very early [John], his family, and the school nurse have had to deal with the nearly innumerable tasks that type 1 diabetes management entails. A Dexcom continuous glucose monitor is a big help, providing a wealth of glucose logging in a small, wearable device.

This monitor, however, is relatively locked down; the stock device is unable to push data to the Internet. [John] reverse engineered the protocol for this glucose monitor, enabling [John] to monitor his son’s blood glucose levels from anywhere on the planet.

There’s a huge community of people waiting for the technological advancements of the last thirty years, like the Internet and portable, networked devices, to make it into medical devices. [John]’s project has already gotten a bit of local news coverage, and is a perfect example of expanding the capabilities of existing devices to make his and his family’s life more convenient.

Bio/interview below.

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Open Source Glucose Monitoring on the Front Lines of Innovation

Cloud-based CGM

[John] is the parent of a diabetic child, and his efforts to expand the communication options for his son’s CGM (continuous glucose monitor) have grown into a larger movement: #wearenotwaiting.

After receiving a new monitor—a Dexcom G4—[John] set about decoding its communication protocols. The first steps were relatively simple, using a laptop to snag the data from the CGM and storing it on a Google doc which he could access as the day went along. The next step involved connecting the monitor and a cellphone for around-the-clock data gathering. [John] managed to develop an Android app to accomplish just that, and shortly after people began to take notice. Both [Howard Look], the CEO of Tidepool, and [Lane Desborough], engineer and father of a child with diabetes, have thrown in their support, leading to further developments such as Nightscout, an open source solution for storing CGM data in the cloud.

This project is a victory not only for those with diabetes, but also for the open source community. [John] admits his initial hesitation for developing for the medical device platform: litigation from a corporation could cause devastation for him and his family despite his intentions to merely improve his son’s and others’ quality of life. Those fears have mostly subsided, however, because the project now belongs to both no one and to everyone. It’s community-owned through an open source repository. Check out the overview of [John’s] work for more pictures and links to different parts of the #wearenotwaiting community.

Blood glucose monitor data pushed to smart watch


[Don] uses a Continuous Glucose Monitor to stay on top of his diabetes. It means carrying around an expensive and fragile device which acts as the readout. He’s an active guy and doesn’t want to destroy the thing while dirt biking or kick boxing so he’s been trying to use a TI Chronos smart watch as a display alternative.

As you can see he has already made some headway. This image shows the watch displaying data from the device. Unfortunately he’s depending on a PC to interface with the CGM display, then pushing it to the watch. He may try moving to a Raspberry Pi to help make this more mobile. This way the sensitive hardware could be tucked safely in a case inside a backpack while the watch shows his current glucose levels. We’d also love to see an embedded solution that would emulate the communications the PC is using to harvest the data. If you’ve got any suggestions in this area we’re sure that [Don] would appreciate the help.