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A Lesson In Community Innovation

When Dana Lewis’s continuous glucose monitor (CGM) alarm no longer woke her up in the middle of the night the lifelong Type 1 diabetic resolved to do something about it. Fast forward 18 months and the Open Artificial Pancreas System (OpenAPS) was born.

Not content with just making the CGM alarm louder, Dana and some coder friends also hacked into the insulin pump and developed a third device, consisting primarily of a computer chip, radio stick and battery, that enables the CGM and insulin pump to communicate with each other.

Now Dana and other Type 1 diabetics can sleep through the night as the CGM monitors the rises and falls of their critical blood glucose level and then tells the insulin pump what to do to maintain a healthy level.

More importantly, they developed the system as open source software, enabling any Type 1 diabetic to build their own OpenAPS unit with the security of a supportive community to back them up. So far more than 400 people have taken advantage. And, as an open source project, they’re not subject to the testing and regulatory regime that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) imposes upon commercial medical devices. In fact, because their coding is open source, the project is talking to commercial manufacturers about how they might want to integrate elements of OpenAPS into their own development pipeline.

Several generations of OpenAPS devices later, the newest units have small screens to enable direct control, and users can also operate the devices from a smartphone or smartwatch. They can tell their insulin pump that they’re about to eat or exercise, enabling it to change their insulin dosing in anticipation of the activity. 

Why do we tell this story as one of our first blog posts of the new year? Because it represents everything that is good about community, technology, and innovation. It’s based on human need, not merely the creation of capital. It’s about innovation undertaken in a collaborative spirit. And it challenges a medical technology culture that tends to stifle and suffocate rather than innovate and move forward quickly.

If we can all take the lessons of the OpenAPS project and apply them to our work in 2018 there’s a chance we’ll get much more done.