BY CLARE MCGRANE on July 19, 2017
Dana Lewis has Type 1 diabetes, which means her pancreas doesn’t work the way it should: It doesn’t make the insulin she needs to survive.
So, she built a new one.
It’s not a biological organ. Lewis’ artificial pancreas system (APS) is an open-source computer system that monitors her blood sugar level and gives her body insulin as needed, building on the insulin pump and glucose monitor that she’s been using for years.
Now, Lewis is known as the founder of the open source APS and leads a community of DIY diabetes patients who are constantly innovating new technology to help manage the condition.
She’s built a technology that is already changing and saving the lives of people with Type 1 diabetes, and she made it happen years before commercial devices have reached the market.
Lewis started working on OpenAPS two years ago, and at first, she didn’t intend to build a computer system at all.
Like thousands of other people with Type 1 diabetes, Lewis was using a continuous glucose monitor to track her blood sugar level around the clock. When her levels were too high or too low, the monitor would sound an alarm to let her know she should inject insulin using her insulin pump.
But Lewis is a power sleeper. She slept through the loudest alarms that her monitor makes, which meant she could slip into a coma or even die in the middle of the night because her blood sugar was dangerously high or low.
“I had to rely on my mom texting or calling me in the morning to check and make sure if I was OK,” Lewis said. “You don’t want it to be the thing that worries her — about whether you’re going to be alive in the morning.”