Homebrew Pancreas Gets 30 Minutes of Fame

It is pretty unusual to be reading Bloomberg Businessweek and see an article with the main picture featuring a purple PCB (the picture above, in fact). But that’s just what we saw this morning. The story is about an open source modification to an insulin pump known as the RileyLink. This takes advantage of older Medtronic brand insulin pumps and allows you to control the BLE device from a smartphone remotely and use more sophisticated software to control blood sugar levels.

Of course, the FDA isn’t involved. If they were, the electronics would cost $7,000 instead of $250 — although, in fairness, that $250 doesn’t cover the cost of the used pump. Why it has to be a used pump is a rather interesting story. The only reason the RileyLink is possible is due to a security flaw and an active hacker community.

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Ask Hackaday: Preserving Electronic Devices

Conventional wisdom holds that we no longer make things to last for the long haul, and that we live in a disposable world. It’s understandable — after all, most of us have a cell phone in our pocket that’s no more than a year or two old, and it’s often cheaper to buy a new printer than replace the ink cartridges. But most of that disposability is driven by market forces, like new software that makes a device obsolete long before it breaks down, or the razor and blades model that makes you pay through the nose for ink. It turns out that most electronic devices are actually pretty well engineered, and as long as they’re not abused can still be operating decades down the road.

But what happens when you want to put an electromechanical device away and preserve it for a rainy day? What can you do to make sure the device will operate again a few years down the road? Are there steps one can take beyond the typical “keep it in a cool, dry place” advice? In short, how do you preserve electronic devices?

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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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