Mom Makes New "Pancreas" For Type 1 Diabetics


This disease is the 7th leading cause of death within the United States, taking a combined toll of 79,535 American lives in the year 2015 alone. Even more horrific is the fact that almost 1 in 10 Americans suffer from this disease with 193,000 of the disease carrying population being under 20 years old.

When Kate Farnsworth’s daughter was 8 years old, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Like most Type 1 diabetics, Kate’s daughter is now subscribed to an endless treatment of frequent blood checks and insulin shots. However, the problem with this treatment method is that not everyone with diabetes can care for themselves. Many young kids and older people either forget about monitoring their blood-glucose levels or can’t inject themselves with insulin. As a result, once her young daughter was diagnosed, Kate was forced to wake up routinely each night at 3 a.m. to check on her daughter’s blood-glucose levels. Furthermore, if Kate wasn’t around checking her daughter’s blood-glucose, then her daughter was required to check her own levels at school and at other activities. In short, it was a cumbersome chore that was by no way simple.

Diabetes occurs when bodily cells fail to take in glucose, the fuel the human body runs on. If glucose isn’t absorbed, it accumulates in the bloodstream which eventually leads to an unhealthy balance of organic compounds in the blood. This disruption of blood balance eventually results in osmosis of body cells, when the water critical to cells leaves and goes to the bloodstream to maintain water equilibrium. This exodus of water eventually results in cell apoptosis and severe dehydration. Hence why many people afflicted with diabetes drink large amounts of water.

Diabetes comes in two types. In Type 1 diabetes the pancreas, the body’s organ responsible for making hormones, fails to produce insulin, the “key” in allowing cells to take in glucose from the blood. In Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, the body produces insulin but the cells refuse to recognize the produced insulin, resulting in the cell not allowing glucose to enter.

Plagued and slightly annoyed with constantly monitoring her daughter’s diabetes, Kate Farnsworth, a programmer, decided to do something to improve this treatment. Fortunately, for them and Type 1 diabetics, there are some good news. In Type 1 diabetes the main goal for health professionals is to supply the patient’s body with insulin it can’t make on its own. Unlike Type 2, it’s much easier to give the body insulin than make the body accept it. Teaming up with health experts, other programmers and DIYers, Farnsworth hoped to create a way to automate insulin injections, in some aspect creating an artificial pancreas for her daughter and other Type 1 diabetes patients. Her first prototype, made from a modified pump does exactly that for only $250 dollars.

Her prototype enables her to connect her smartphone device to her daughter's insulin pump. The pump constantly sends information about her daughter’s blood-glucose levels to her phone in which she could then send orders back to either release more insulin or more glucose. When asked what inspired her to create this link between her daughter’s insulin pump and her phone, Kate responded back “You can do everything on your phone except manage diabetes [...] You should be able to do that, too.”

Now Kate and her fellow DIYers are hoping to yet improve once more on their device to the point in which it becomes completely self-automated. They aim to create a device in which it automatically reads the patients blood-glucose levels and releases the exact amount of insulin needed. If successful, this device can greatly reduce the amount of work people afflicted with Type 1 diabetes have to do to treat themselves and perhaps give them what they greatly need, a new, working artificial pancreas.

Though the device offers much ease, it doesn’t come without drawbacks. DYI medical devices are often criticized for their safety. Because these devices are made by with little regard to industrial health standards, most of the time fixed up in individual’s homes, these devices might not reach health standards critical to being labeled as a safe product. As a result, unsanitary conditions present on the devices could cause individuals to contract diseases far worse than the diabetes they currently have.

Kate Farnsworth and her family had come a long way ever since her daughter was found to have Type 1 diabetes. However, with Kate’s new DIY diabetes device, their lives have gone back to normal. Kate’s daughter even admits that she finally feels normal and that she can finally go on roller coasters and snowboarding trips without worrying about her diabetes. Kate’s device is truly a savior for those with Type 1 diabetes.