Scenes from our dystopian cyberpunk present

'Looping' Created an Underground Insulin-Pump Market

By 2014, the hardware components of a DIY artificial pancreas -- a small insulin pump that attaches via thin disposable tubing to the body and a continuous sensor for glucose, or sugar, that slips just under the skin -- were available, but it was impossible to connect the two. That's where the security flaw came in. The hackers realized they could use it to override old Medtronic pumps with their own algorithm that automatically calculates insulin doses based on real-time glucose data. It closed the feedback loop. [...]

Dozens, then hundreds, and now thousands of people are experimenting with DIY artificial-pancreas systems -- none of which the Food and Drug Administration has officially approved. And they've had to track down discontinued Medtronic pumps. It can sometimes take months to find one. [...]

Even with these new options, DIY looping is still on the margins of the official health-care system: It means going overseas to buy pumps not yet approved in the United States. It means testing an experimental version with Omnipod. And in most cases in the United States, it's meant finding old, out-of-warranty Medtronic pumps. Loopers with Medtronic pumps told me they worried their decade-old devices might break, and they'd have no way to fix them.

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7 Responses:

  1. MattyJ says:

    Reminds me a little bit of the shenanigans they had to go through to preserve Stephen Hawking's voice near the end of his life, when his synthesizer was nearly 30 years old. (suggest DuckDuckGoi-ing "Stephen Hawking raspberry pi")

    I worked for an FDA regulated device manufacturer about 20 years ago. I can attest that at the time, there was no 'fast track' to any hardware or software upgrades, not even ones deemed critical. And that's really just counting things that the company wanted to do (because it was profitable.) Device makers are not generally going to do something solely because it saves lives, they gotta make some bank off of it, too. The effort of getting through the FDA is too great, even for tiny things (at least 20 years ago it was.)

    • margaret says:

      Too bad it's not like aviation where you can "self-regulate."

      • MattyJ says:

        Really. My dad built an airplane in our garage when I was a kid and it seemed relatively easy to legally get that contraption in the air.

  2. Rodger says:

    You can watch the LCA keynote by a founder of this effort at

  3. saxmaniac says:

    Great news. My son is already using unoficial CGM phone software, which is 10x better than the iOS-only barely-functional version provided by the manufacturer. If he starts looping maybe we'll get some sleep for the first time in 12 years.

  4. weaver says:

    Don’t miss a developer’s awesome writeup about the reverse engineering effort to move the stack onto more modern, nicer insulin pumps:

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