3 years ago, my persistent nerdiness brought me from Texas out to sunny California to study at Stanford School of Medicine. I was surprised to find incredible research and developments not only at the medical school, but in the overwhelmingly supportive and innovative diabetic community!
After years of feeling like I had to go it alone, in and out of diabetic burn-out and meal-time anxiety, I finally found the encouragement and positivity I needed to refresh my mindset and management.
Diabetes has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve seen the full gamut of treatments, from my grandmother explaining that her “medicines” came from cows, to my father’s diagnosis and all the finger-pricking, pill-swallowing, and (eventual) groan-inducing injections that followed. There had to be a better way.
13 years ago, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes after a family trip to Guatemala (which I mostly spoiled with my constant trips to the bathroom and incessant napping). Thinking I had to resign myself to pinching together the little fat I had to inject the rest of my life, I was all-in when offered the chance for an insulin pump and CGM in college.
The technologies weren’t exactly a silver bullet (big shout out to CGM alarms for sleep loss), but they instantly made running collegiate track and maintaining my glucose during times of stress (i.e. college finals) more manageable.
I never expected that 5 years after going on a pump system, I would be “jailbreaking” my own insulin pump to receive instructions from an incredible (but NOT FDA-approved) app called Loop. But here we are!
After a lot of research, a lot of discussion with my endocrinologist, and a lotttt of CGM sharing with my mom (mistake), girlfriend and basically anyone who would be ok with getting annoying alarms for me, I decided to download this software that allows an algorithm on your phone to send temp basals to your insulin pump…. all by itself… every 5 minutes!
The Loop system takes your CGM readings, insulin-on-board, and carbohydrates-eaten into account when making its calculations and can even predict when you’ve miscalculated your carb intake and make an automatic correction! This functions similarly to the FDA-approved Medtronic 670G hybrid closed-loop system (the only FDA-approved closed-loop to date) that has recently become available, although it allows you to choose which CGM you prefer and is highly configurable. Again, Loop is NOT FDA-approved (see below for disclaimer).
3 weeks after beginning my journey with this closed-loop system, I have to reiterate nothing is a silver bullet for diabetes management. The system requires some computer and programming competency, and like any computer program can have malfunctions. Electronics and connectivity come with their own troubleshooting, but I couldn’t be happier with how this system has drastically reduced my mental workload (and the sleep!).
After a lifetime being surrounded by diabetes management, I feel incredibly lucky to be riding the next wave in treatment. A huge and profound thank you to the diabetes community for coming together around issues in our treatment, and solving the problems we know need to be addressed now!
*The opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect professional treatment recommendations, the opinions of Stanford University, Stanford School of Medicine, or Stanford Hospital and Clinics. Any changes to diabetes management regimes should be discussed with the patient’s endocrinologist or primary care doctor. Any persons adopting a non-FDA-approved system of treatment do so at their own risk and should proceed with appropriate caution.
Jonathan Tijerina is a 3rd year medical student and research coordinator at Stanford School of Medicine. He teaches the med school course, Diabetes 101 for Healthcare Providers, and started the Bay Area Running Group for diabetic teens learning to manage their glucose on long running ventures. IG: Jonathan_David_Tijerina