Omnipod, an insulin pump in the RoboLab

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Diabetes is a so-called disease of affluence or lifestyle disease. It can do catastrophic damage to the body if left untreated. The Ars Electronica Center recently installed a very informative exhibit about Ypsomed’s Omnipod, a compact insulin pump that makes everyday life a lot easier for diabetics. Thomas Jannke, the AEC’s vice-director of visitor services and one of the first Omnipod users in Austria, explains what this amazing device is capable of.

There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 afflicts young to middle-aged people. Type 2 is found in older individuals whose pancreas is still somewhat functional, so basically all these folks have to do is follow a few dietary rules and take medications to support the activity of their pancreas.

The insulin pump was created especially for type 1 diabetics. The problem is that these people’s blood sugar level is subject to severe fluctuations, much more extreme than those of healthy individuals. Every morning, type 1 diabetics inject basal insulin, a long-lasting insulin that is released steadily throughout the day to break down the sugars the body takes in and thus smooth out the variations.

The problem with severe fluctuations like those of diabetics who have to inject insulin is the peaks, which can cause a wide range of nasty long-term ill effects, the onset of which is very gradual. The job of the insulin pump is, in principle, to replicate the way a normal person’s body regulates its insulin level: once an hour, the pump releases just the right amount of insulin needed to keep the individual’s blood sugar level relatively constant.

When the diabetic has a meal, he/she can also inject a corresponding dose that immediately compensates for the peak and maintains equilibrium. This is designed to prevent long-term side-effects.

Pump plus PDM (Personal Diabetes Manager)

Does the insulin pump measure the blood sugar level?

Yes and no. I have a remote control unit for the pump that displays all relevant information—how much insulin was dispensed, when, etc. This remote control unit regulates the entire system.

I can take a blood sample on my own at any time, analyze it in the remote control unit, and, on the basis of the test results, the device issues an insulin dose recommendation. Then, it automatically asks whether I intend to eat something else and, if so, how many calories the food contains. So this is a very convenient and effective way to keep your blood sugar level in balance.

The insulin pump is always worn for three days, the reason being that after three days, the blood coagulates on the pump’s tiny flexible tube (called a canulla). The pump can be worn on the upper arm, the midriff, the lower back or the leg—so there are plenty of options for a steady rotation.

The pump can be placed on various parts of the body..

The plastic canulla is inserted into the body and remains there the whole time. You can shower with the pump on, take a sauna, engage in sports—none of these activities is a problem.

Pumps with built-in measurement devices are currently being tested in the USA. Of course, this would deliver even greater convenience, but the current version of the pump already provides significantly enhanced quality of life in comparison to injection therapy. This technology is relatively new on the Austrian market, and is covered by the country’s health insurance providers.

Visitors to the Ars Electronica Center can get a close-up look at one of the pumps and obtain detailed information about getting set up with one.