Parent originality elevates diabetes care to the clouds
A Cook Children’s endocrinologist gives thoughts on latest advance glucose monitoring technology
- James Wedding, Nightscout Project.
From Fitbits to the new Apple Watch, the latest technology seems to rest on a wrist.
And now the next time you see a mom looking at her smartwatch, she may be monitoring her child’s blood sugar levels.
Progress in diabetes care has mostly come from the medical community and medical industry. However, this changed recently when a new innovation came from a people on the very front line of diabetes care – parents.
Who better to understand the pitfalls in diabetes care and be the best advocates for kids with type 1 diabetes?
I think that most people not affected directly by type 1 diabetes would probably guess that the multiple daily insulin shots is the hardest part in diabetes care.
But, I think (and perhaps many others touched by type 1 diabetes would agree) that the complete uncertainty about blood sugars is the true hard part of diabetes.
There are an infinite number of questions or worries surrounding the blood sugar:
- How does my child feel when his or her blood sugar is high or low?
- How will illness affect my child’s blood sugar?
- How will activity impact my child’s blood sugars?
Right now, most parents and children are flying blind in between blood sugar checks, not knowing for certain which way blood sugars are heading – up or down.
But they don’t have to any longer because glucose monitoring now lives in the cloud.
Continuous glucose monitoring
Anyone can see that the daily constant attention and mental energy needed for good diabetes care is immense. Any progress in diabetes care that reduces this strain right now is worth it.
Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) is a technology useful in diabetes care. I wrote about the technology several years ago. The technology uses an IV-like catheter placed under the skin which constantly samples the blood sugar (glucose) level in minute amounts of body tissue fluid in the area between skin and muscle. A larger sensor attached to the catheter sits on the skin and beams the blood sugar reading to a receiver device. It allows families and children to see blood sugar trends in between finger pokes. Below is an illustration of the technology:
A number of barriers in the past such as size of the unit, wear comfort, sensor/receiver communication problems, and insurance coverage made wider use of this promising technology in children with type 1 diabetes a challenge. Fortunately, there has been progress and today there is wider use of the CGM use in children.
The proximity problem…..
Previously, a child wearing a CGM must be in receiver range (a max of 20 feet) to see blood sugar readings, and factors such as walls may further affect the ability of the receiver to detect the blood sugar readings.
Why can’t there be remote diabetes monitoring?
Today’s mobile technology makes it possible to shop or surf the web virtually anywhere in the world.So the thought process was, “Why couldn’t this same technology be used to make remote diabetes monitoring possible?”
Starting roughly 18 months ago, that’s exactly the problem that parents of children with type 1 diabetes solved.
Two tech-savvy dads who had children with type 1 diabetes pieced together a CGM receiver with a cell phone and they were able to transmit the CGM data into a cloud-based database. A basic set-up is shown below:
The twitter hashtag speaks to the commitment of the group and other advocates for improvement in type 1 diabetes care to strive for innovation and progress right now in type 1 diabetes care.
The movement has evolved from a core of interested parents sharing with other parents to a Facebook group to now a nonprofit called the Nightscout Project.
The group continues to look at ways to move diabetes care forward with support of innovation, FDA device discussions and collaboration with other non-profits.
“People focus on the cure, but we want to focus on tomorrow. The cure is the future.”said James Wedding, Nightscout Project.
CGM in the cloud.
Once in the cloud, the blood sugar information could be accessed by any Internet enabled device (smartphone, tablet, smartwatch, etc.).
Families and children now have access to real-time blood sugar info whether their child is right beside them or half a world away.
The help and peace of mind has probably been immense as parents have access to blood sugar at field trips and sleepovers.
Parents can have date nights again and not worry about their babysitter monitoring their child’s blood sugar. They can now do it at the dinner table.
Quick blood sugar info is available with a glance at the smartwatch, and children never miss a bit of fun at the beach.
* Photo from beach, courtesy of Jasmine Cruz-Bohren.
About the author
Joel Steelman, M.D., is an endocrinologist at the Cook Children's Endocrine and Diabetes program, which treats infants, children and teens with conditions that are caused by or affect the hormonal balance of the body. We understand the importance of working together and that's how we approach the care of our children.