HACKERS used a security flaw to cobbled-together an artificial pancreas.
When her daughter, Sydney, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 8, Kate Farnsworth stopped sleeping through the night. She’d set the alarm for 3 a.m. so she or her husband, Dave, could prick the girl’s fingers and check her blood sugar. If the results were worrisome, they’d adjust her insulin and keep checking every 15 minutes. At 6 a.m., another alarm went off to signal the next insulin dose, but by then, Kate had usually snapped awake again already. When Sydney got home from school each afternoon, Kate was there to check her glucose level. “Diabetes is one of the only diseases where you’re sent a prescription and have to adjust the dosage on your own” forever, Kate says. For Sydney, the biggest worry was “how I wouldn’t ever be normal again.”
Two exhausting years in, Kate found the beginnings of an alternative in an online forum. Kate was able to follow a DIY community’s step-by-step instructions and build her daughter what amounted to an artificial pancreas, the organ that regulates blood sugar. Sydney, now 15, is still using an updated version of that DIY system, which, because a fellow DIYer donated the pump, cost only $250 to make.
“I’m really happy with where I am now,” she says. “It’s so simple to just click a button and give insulin while I’m on my phone.” The app she uses, connected to a sensor under her skin, keeps monitoring her whether she’s sleeping, taking a math quiz, or doing jumps on her snowboard.
“It has totally changed the way we manage diabetes,” Kate says.
Nightscout, the DIY group, has grown from five families in April 2014 to some 55,000 people in 33 countries. A European team recently created an app for Android phones and cracked the code in a popular pump from Roche Holding AG. About 50 people signed up for the Android system last month, says developer Milos Kozak.