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DIY Artificial Pancreas Systems With the Support of Online Communities

Joining a community of people with type 1 diabetes is a great way to build relationships with people who face similar challenges. This community can support you when you go through a rough patch, and also give you advice to help you better manage your diabetes.

Have you ever heard about artificial pancreas (or closed loop) systems? These systems connect CGM values to an insulin pump and use an algorithm to adjust the pump’s basal rate according to your blood sugar level. In other words, it automatically triggers a reaction from your pump to your blood sugar: the basal rate increases when your blood sugar is high, and vice versa.

A study conducted in the United States investigated the impact of artificial pancreas systems on blood sugar levels. Over a six-month span, participants who used a closed loop system spent 71% of their time within target blood sugar levels (4–10 mmol/L), versus 59% for participants who used a classic combination of an insulin pump and a CGM.

Although a few Health Canada-approved artificial pancreas models have been launched by large manufacturers in the past few years, some tech wizards have decided to take the matter into their own hands and have created a closed loop system, also known as a DIY artificial pancreas. This system requires a hackable insulin pump, a CGM, a phone application and a small external device called a “RileyLink,” which uses an algorithm. 

Online mentoring

As interesting as they sound, DIY artificial pancreas systems have some setbacks. Without Health Canada’s approval, these systems aren’t regulated. This means that users can’t rely on a manufacturer’s customer service or their healthcare team if they experience problems or have any questions. That’s when they turn to online communities.

You will find these active communities on social media, generally through discussion forums that are moderated by experts, called “mentors.”

Mentors either have type 1 diabetes themselves or have a loved one who does. They’re generally experienced in algorithm development or a related field, and they provide users with the support they need by answering their questions and addressing their concerns. However, there are certain things mentors can’t do, for instance predicting potential side effects or troubleshooting insulin adjustment issues.

The SUPPORT platform

Online support forums can be a helpful addition to our health system, and not just with regard to artificial pancreas systems.

And this is exactly why the online SUPPORT platform was created. This free, customizable platform (according to your treatment) includes learning modules, a news section and an online forum moderated by health professionals. Access is reserved to those who have type 1 diabetes, who live in Quebec and who fill out the BETTER registry’s three questionnaires.

The BETTER team analyzes the impact of the forum on the quality of life of people with type 1 diabetes.

Check out the BETTER homepage for more information.

References

  • Brown, S. A., Kovatchev, B. P., Raghinaru, D., Lum, J. W., Buckingham, B. A., Kudva, Y. C., … Beck, R. W. (2019). Six-Month Randomized, Multicenter Trial of Closed-Loop Control in Type 1 Diabetes. New England Journal of Medicine, 381(18), 1707–1717. doi: 10.1056/nejmoa1907863
  • Crocket, H. (2019). Peer Mentoring in the Do-it-Yourself Artificial Pancreas System Community. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, 193229681988387. doi: 10.1177/1932296819883876