Hacking Diabetes

A Johns Hopkins lecturer uses #OpenAPS to control her diabetes.

Kaitlyn Pacheco - November 2018

Diabetes Patients Hack Own Insulin Pumps Using Open Source Coding

A Johns Hopkins lecturer uses #OpenAPS to control her diabetes.

Kaitlyn Pacheco - November 2018

Orla Wilson and her daughter, Polly. -Frank Hamilton

For 31 years, Orla Wilson had been treating her Type 1 diabetes with a combination of prescribed pumps and devices, but all that changed when her then-8-year-old daughter, Polly, was diagnosed with the disease. Wanting to make Polly’s daily routine more predictable and less time consuming, Wilson, a senior lecturer of materials science and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, joined a rising subculture of patients who have hacked their own insulin pumps and created an artificial pancreas system using open-source coding.

The simulated pancreas system was founded in 2015 when diabetes activists Dana Lewis and Scott Leibrand created a closed-loop system that connects updates from a patients’ continuous glucose monitor to their wearable insulin pump. Instead of having to manually adjust insulin levels, the OpenAPS system transmits blood sugar readings to the insulin pump, which then automatically adjusts the patients’ intake to maintain a healthy rate.

The systems must be self-made and are not regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Lewis and Leibrand shared their open-source code online and launched the #OpenAPS movement to help people like Wilson, who became the 121st person to complete her own system in October 2016. As of July, more than 725 people, including Polly, are reportedly using the hybrid strategy.

Since adopting the homemade system, Wilson says she worries less about “going low” on glucose while she’s teaching or about Polly sleeping through her blood-sugar alarms. She has shared her experience with various diabetes Facebook groups and the Johns Hopkins chapter of the College Diabetes Network, and even hosted a webinar with local nonprofit Diabetes Destiny.

During her senior design course, she points to her system as an example of the importance of innovation and lifelong learning. “It’s like saying ‘screw you’ to diabetes,” she says. “I have a better understanding and control over it now than ever before, and the fact that it’s something I chose to do and build for my health is empowering.”





You May Also Like


Health & Wellness

How to Approach Your Healthy Eating Goals

Health coach Lauren Shafer of Live Full shares her tips.

In Good Taste

Food and Drink Trends to Expect at Baltimore Eateries in 2020

Local chefs and bartenders place an emphasis on wellness this year.

Charmed Life

Talk Shop: Skincando; Brightside Boutique; Bishme Cromartie

A roundup of style, shopping, and wellness news in Baltimore


Charmed Life

How to Set Realistic New Year's Resolutions

Local life coaches explain how to set goals that you'll actually stick to in 2020.

Health & Wellness

A Land of Milk and Honey

Healing body care made by healing women.

Health & Wellness

Ma’am Overboard

Age is just a number—until you look in the mirror.

Orla Wilson and her daughter, Polly. -Frank Hamilton

Doctor Finder

Connect With Us

Most Read


Will Judge Make an Example Out of Catherine Pugh?: With the former mayor’s sentencing scheduled for February, both sides get to work on their case.

What to Know About the Maryland Cycling Classic Coming September 2020: For starters, Baltimore's pro cycling event will be more than 100 miles long.

Caleeb Pinkett Screens 'Charm City Kings' at Sundance Film Festival: Producer talks source material, filming in Baltimore, and his famous family.

Maryland Politicians React to Trump Impeachment: Local leaders reflect and look ahead at Senate trial.

Orioles Execs Not Mentioned in ‘AstroGate’ Sign-Stealing Scandal: GM Mike Elias and the O’s other ex-Astros employees have steered clear of the fallout.