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An app that’s changing the life of a diabetic

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14 November 2019

I’m Daniel, I’m 24 and in 2008 I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At the time I was just 13, in the first year of secondary school. The diagnosis immediately changed my life. Due to an auto-immune reaction, my body had destroyed the beta cells in my pancreas, which stopped producing insulin. That meant I had to inject myself several times a day, prick myself to take blood and also measure my blood sugar levels several times a day, as well as counting the carbohydrates in every food whenever I ate anything.

Type 1 diabetes is a deadly disease if you don’t get insulin. It has little to do with type 2 diabetes, which is much more frequent, better known and consists of an alteration to the metabolism of glucose, not the absence of insulin. That is more related to obesity and bad habits.

Once you accept the fact that you have to inject yourself with insulin, your everyday life as a type 1 diabetes patient is affected by the need for proper long-term monitoring of your blood sugar. This is part of a daily effort to replace the function of the pancreas and to keep your blood sugar levels as close as possible to those of someone without diabetes. This routine has its long-term reward in 20 to 30 years’ time when you avoid the side effects of poorly controlled diabetes, such as damage to the circulation system, which can show itself in the retina, the kidneys, the heart, etc.

Since I was diagnosed with diabetes, I have followed conventional treatment for managing the disease. This consists of using pens loaded with insulin which I use to inject myself at each meal and on average five or six times a day. But about four months ago my experience led me to create what is known as a home-made artificial pancreas. This has brought a radical change in the way I manage my diabetes.

I found the idea of making an artificial pancreas on the internet in various forums and groups of people from all over the world who show a great interest in improving the quality of life for people with diabetes.

Non-profit organisations, such as the Nightscout Foundation, have managed to bring about these advances – in particular the algorithm – before there are any complete commercial solutions, and I based my approach on this. When I was thinking about the idea, I went to a private endocrinologist, who was very interested in the technology and helped to implant the pump. We will probably soon see commercial solutions of this kind provided by a specialist diabetes laboratory.

The artificial pancreas consists of four elements: firstly a sensor that measures glucose levels every five minutes, already partially financed by the public health system. This uses a Bluetooth transmitter to send the details to my mobile phone. The third component is a removable pump without a catheter, much more comfortable than the ones traditionally used. The disadvantage of this is the fact that it is not sold in all countries. Finally, an open-source-based mobile app collects the data from the glucose sensor and, using a predictive algorithm, monitors the amount of insulin administered by the pump. All this is automatic. This final element is perhaps the most complex because you have to compile the code and be registered as the software developer. 

This system has radically improved my quality of life. It is much more convenient and I have gained peace of mind because I can lead a completely normal life, almost without needles, and the blood sugar monitoring means I am very close to the levels of a person without diabetes. It is also something anyone with the disease can create. All you need to do is collect the different pieces of hardware, compile the application and install it on the mobile phone, because, as it is not backed by a laboratory, it is not in the app stores. However, it can easily be installed with the help of tutorials that anyone can follow.

Since I mentioned the subject of the home-made artificial pancreas casually to Enrique Díaz de la Puente, an ex-colleague from the everis Health Division, and Alberto Borrego, a partner in the same division, I have seen great interest from them in finding out everything about my set-up and analysing its possible application in other projects within the company’s Health Division.

The combination of different hardware elements which are already available and the development of an open-source-based mobile monitoring app allows patients to self-manage diabetes and radically improve their present and future quality of life.

The combination of already existing different hardware elements, together with the development of a mobile control application based on free code, allows the patient himself to self-manage his diabetes and radically improve his present and future quality of life.

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