The impact? Reduced performance, and reduced longevity. We wrongly assume that it’s only diabetics that are exposed to these issues. This episode explores using continuous glucose monitoring and other tech to optimize blood sugar through the eyes of a diabetic self-experimenter.
How can blood sugar regulation and dysregulation be better understood? Certainly a lot of you are aware and concerned about these topics, if you haven’t already been tracking your blood glucose or your ketones through some of the self experiments we have previously done.
There are a lot of lessons on optimization in this area. Because it is such a serious issue today, there are a fair number of interviews coming up and talking about it.
Another aspect we look into is hacking medical devices. This means not waiting for the technology to arrive from big companies. We are talking about the DIY spirit that some people are taking towards technology. Rather than waiting for solutions to arrive from the market, they are making real use of technology today, right now.
We are also looking at open-loop and closed-loop system technologies. This is a different approach to using direct feedback to optimize ourselves, our biology. I hope you see that this as exciting as well and we will look at both of those scenarios in today’s blood sugar regulation area. And finally, of course, the value of n=1 experimentation as today’s guest is an n=1 experimenter.
This episode looks at blood sugar regulation through the lens of Diabetes. Now of course this is the main disease associated with blood sugar dysregulation, and this means that we’ll be looking at more of an extreme case. This can often be helpful, though, to finding really useful tools because when you are managing something like diabetes you have to take it a lot more seriously, and you have to manage it a lot more closely, and thus you learn more about it.
So today’s episode, even if you are not diabetic — I am sure there are a certain number of you out there, because it’s very common today — it will still be very useful. I found it incredibly useful myself. And one of the reasons for this is even if you are not Type 1 or Type 2 diabetic, you most probably have some level of blood sugar dysregulation; unless you’ve checked it, and you are at ease with that level.
What I am saying here is it may not be optimum. You may have suffered some metabolic damage along the way and your blood sugar doesn’t quite self-regulate as well as it could. If you wanted to test this yourself, you could do a simple blood glucose test and see what your post meal blood sugar is one and two hour after meals. So if it was over 120mg/dL, it may be something you need to look into further, as you may have accumulated some damage and you may be more towards the spectrum of diabetes, diabetes 2 most likely.
So today we’re going to learn from diabetes 1 management – the most challenging form of diabetes. What works for this is often applicable to your own blood sugar management optimization, and managing blood sugar dysregulation in general.
“The power of [Continuous Glucose Management] is not necessarily giving the most accurate reading. It’s more the power of seeing the trend. So I know if I’m going up or down, or something is changing.“
– Tim Omer
Today’s guest is Tim Omer. He is a guy in the UK who got frustrated with limitations and stresses of having to manage his own diabetes 1 condition, and he set out to fix it. He is an n=1 experimenter and has made a lot of progress in this area. He has really improved his own life through better information and levering the technologies that exist.
He is not isolated in this either. You will also learn in this episode about the community working to build a bionic pancreas. That is a closed-loop system, or potentially an open-loop system, which can manage insulin release automatically or semi-automatically.
So it is really set to replace the broken part of the body, the pancreas, going forward, which is pretty exciting stuff too. For example, you can learn more about this at #wearenotwaiting on Twitter.
I came across Tim through an article in the Guardian which talked about what he was up to, and his blog HypoDiabetic.co.uk where he talks about his journey and his updates.
The episode highlights, biomarkers, and links to the apps, devices and labs and everything else mentioned are below. Enjoy the show and let me know what you think in the comments!
What You’ll Learn
- Tim Omer’s personal motivation for monitoring blood sugar levels and his battle with type 1 Diabetes (05:57).
- The basic summary of type 1 and 2 diabetes and on using insulin as therapy (06:56).
- The effects of very high vs. low glucose levels and how diabetics optimize glucose levels (09:12).
- Tim Omer’s realistic aim with diabetes management is to remain around the 100 mg/dL blood glucose level (12:57).
- Long term management of blood glucose levels and sticking to healthy ranges (13:19).
- Micromanaging diabetes – being proactive with lifestyle choices in order to avoid physiological and mental stress (14:31).
- The difference in root causes behind the development Type 1 vs. Type 2 diabetes (20:13).
- How switching to Paleo dieting helps increase insulin sensitivity and optimizes insulin therapy response (22:49).
- Which are the long term risks of mis-managing diabetes (22:15).
- Optimal ranges for blood ketone levels and avoiding toxic ketoacidosis in diabetes (26:51).
- Defining a practical Paleo Diet and caveats with slow – release foods advertisements (29:21).
- The advantages of switching from pin-prick devices to continuous glucose monitoring (30:39).
- How CGM informs and empowers the patient in deciding on ways to regulate blood sugar levels (33:28).
- How insulin pumps work and the benefits these devices offer (35:13).
- Difficulties in obtaining CGM devices and overcoming initial psychological barriers of using such devices (38:02).
- A comparison of major CGM devices on the market and user cost-reductions by hacking and re-engineering devices (41:48).
- How the DIY community is advancing the use of devices and improving quality of life for diabetic patients (47:59).
- Calibrating CGM devices to gain accurate and useful data for individuals (50:32).
- Using CGM for detecting trends in blood glucose levels with consuming different food types (55:05).
- Using open or closed – system devices capable of simultaneously tracking blood sugar levels and adequately administering insulin therapy (56:30).
- The risks of being solely reliant on technology to treat diabetes and the need to self-engage in the process to achieve optimal positive outcomes (1:03:23).
- Why the We Are Not Waiting community has taken diabetes treatment into their own hands? – explaining set goals and achieved progress (1:04:36).
- How the artificial pancreas aims to replace the pancreas of diabetic patients and apps paving the way towards achieving this goal (1:05:46).
- Undertaking medical and legal risks when participating in DIY biohacking devices and positive effects such movements have on the market (1:07:47).
- Why the models for developing medical technology are outpaced by DIY communities and why feeling empowered as a patient matters in the social battle for obtaining medical devices, such as CGMs (1:11:51).
- Tim’s number one recommendation for everyone involved in the field of medical devices and managing data to improve their lives (1:14:52).
Thank Tim Omer on Twitter for this interview.
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Tim Omer, Hypo Diabetic Blog
- The Guardian’s original article on Tim Omer: Describes the active role he is taking in using new technology to battle with his type 1 diabetes condition.
- Hypo Diabetic Blog: Where Tim Omer talks about his journey and his updates.
- Tim Omer’s Twitter
- WeAreNotWaiting: A movement centered around a DIY approach to diabetes management instead of waiting for big companies to commercialize already tweaked – useful tools. It is a community led by diabetic patients and hackers aiming to make diabetes data and technology more accessible and actionable.
Biohacking CGM Devices
- My APS App: Tim developed an open-loop Artificial Pancreas App, based on a OpenAPS community – developed algorithm.
- Hacking a CGM Transmitter: How to hack a CGM transmitter and access data directly on your phone.
- DIY APS and reducing CGM user costs: A blog post by Tim explaining why building a DIY APS is useful and how a biohacking a CGM device reduces yearly costs of consumables from £5000 to just over £1000.
Tools & Tactics
- Insulin Therapy: There are two types of insulin injections most diabetic patients use. First, the body requires a background amount of insulin over a 24 h day. Thus patients take a slow-release form of insulin once or twice per day. Second, they use rapid acting insulin with meals such that it can accommodate for food coming into the system.
- Insulin Pump: Insulin pumps deliver very minute levels of insulin over the course of a day, thus simplifying treatment and offering greater control. Essentially they simplify the background insulin aspect of therapy.
- Bionic Pancreas: A closed-loop system, or potentially an open-loop system, which can manage insulin release automatically or semi-automatically. It integrates the insulin pump and continue glucose monitor technologies, so that insulin release responds to real-time data. Essentially, it is meant to serve as a real time replacement of the dysfunctional pancreas of diabetics.
Diet & Nutrition
- Cheat Day: Cheat days are typically implemented as one day taken off from a diet per week to make the diet easier to follow. This style of dieting is also used by bodybuilders in an attempt to optimize metabolism and fat loss, and by Cyclic Ketogenic Dieters. Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body book recommended this tool within a Slow Carb Diet. Damien’s experience with this led to seeing high blood sugar levels throughout the entire day, ranging between 130-140 mg/dL. In his personal experience, these days were accompanied with headaches and attention deficit symptoms, adding up to reduced work productivity.
- Paleo Diet: A diet that advocates eating whole-foods and restricts certain food types including high glycemic foods, grains, and dairy. The diet is low to moderate carbohydrate. Tim found that his insulin sensitivity doubled when he switched to a Paleo-based diet. This has helped him remain in optimal glucose level ranges for more prolonged periods.
- Ketogenic Diet: A high fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate diet. This diet is particular in that it changes the metabolism so that it burns ketones instead of glucose for fuel. See episode 7 with Jimmy More for detailed discussion of the benefits of this dietary approach. This should not be confused with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) – a serious medical condition suffered only by diabetics when their insulin drops to near zero, and as a result ketones spike to abnormal levels (20 Mm plus). This situation does not occur for non-diabetics following a ketogenic diet.
- Exogenous Ketones: A new range of supplements that increase blood ketones directly by providing beta-hydroxybutyrate (a ketone body). These supplements are being studied for and used to increase energy, performance and provide other health benefits. Damien remarked on their use. Read this article for a comprehensive explanation of exogenous ketones and their applications and see here for the list of currently available exogenous ketone products.
- Blood Glucose: This is a simple measurement of the glucose (blood sugar) concentration in your system. It reflects the body’s ability to properly metabolize food and feed cells with essential energy – glucose molecules. Blood glucose levels usually range around 81 mg/dL (4.5 mmol – UK units). On the upper scale, you should aim to stay below 126 mg/dL (7 mmol), but this level is jumped several times every day. Damien notes that 120 mg/dL can often by hit post-meals, depending on what is eaten. As a diabetic patient, Tim aims to keep his blood glucose around the 100 mg/dL (that’s his target to aim for). Previously, we have covered measuring glucose, including fasting glucose as a biomarker, in Episode 22 with Bob Troia.
- Blood Ketones: As a diabetic patient, testing for blood ketone levels is useful in determining whether your body is likely going into DKA state. For a diabetic, they monitor to ensure their Ketone levels stay below 11 mmol (which would indicate they are approaching Ketoacidosis). This is not the same as with a non-diabetic. For instance, Damien regularly see 8 mmol or higher during water fasts experiments, and specifically this was noted in his 10 day water fast. This is perfectly normal in that different context. Context matters. To understand the ketones values better, see Episode 7 with Jimmy Moore where we discussed measuring ketones in depth.
Lab Tests, Devices and Apps
- Pin-Prick Glucose Tracking Devices: The most popular and easily accessible devices for checking blood glucose (and ketones). While we’ve mostly covered these for use in tracking ketogenic diets, blood sugar optimization and fasting therapy these were originally developed for Diabetic patients. The majority of diabetic patients rely on these devices. The most popular devices, and ones we’ve discussed before, are the Precision Xtra Blood Glucose and Ketone Monitoring System in the U.S. and the Freestyle Optium Neo Glucose & Ketone meter in the UK
- Dexcom Seven Plus: This CGM device has been retired and newer Dexcom devices are available on the market. It cost Tim around 400-500 pounds at the time when he bought it on eBay.
- Dexcom G4: The CGM which Tim currently uses and one of the most popular on the market. A continuous glucose monitor containing a small sensor that measures glucose levels just underneath the skin. A transmitter then sends wireless data to a receiver which displays glucose trends. Tim has done extensive work on biohacking this device making it more user-friendly and actionable in managing diabetes.
- xDrip Device & App: This system combines a small transistor device which allows for CGM data to be directly transferred to a phone or a smartwatch. Developed by Stephen Black and widely used in DIY biohacking circles.
- Sony Smartwatch: Can be wirelessly linked for real-time access to information coming from a xDrip adapted with a Dexicom 4G device.
- Medtronic 530G Insulin Pump: A CGM device which is popular on the market and offers several unique tools, for example the Bolus Wizard calculator makes it easier to calculate mealtime insulin requirements.
- Nightscout: This app allows parents to remotely monitor a child’s blood glucose levels. It links the Dexcom receiver, a little pager device, to a mobile phone and downloads CGM data readings every few minutes.
Other People, Books & Resources
- UK National Health Service (NHS): Tim discusses the difficulty of obtaining NHS – funded insulin pump devices, despite many more diabetic patients meeting recommended criteria. About 6% of diabetic persons have pumps in the UK.
- National Institute for Care Excellence: This public organization provides guidelines for insulin pump therapy in the UK – and on eligibility for getting a CGM device under the NHS healthcare system.
- US Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Tim explains the complications of developing DIY diabetes management devices due to their sale being illegal under FDA guidelines.
- Tidepool: A research company which has built a platform for diabetes data and apps that utilize data. Aiming to encourage others to build on this platform, the company uses a freely available open-source code.
- Theranos: A company that has patented automated delivery of medicine, using sensing and delivering systems similar to the combination of a CGM and an insulin pump.
Full Interview Transcript
[00:05:57][Damien Blenkinsopp]: Tim, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining us.
[Tim Omer]: That’s okay. It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, so I want to dive straight into it. Why are you interested in monitoring your blood sugar? What is it about you personally that has motivated you to do this and is important to you?
[Tim Omer]: Well, obviously for me being a type 1 diabetic and knowing my blood sugar is very useful. I’m sure we’ll talk a bit more about diabetes itself in a moment, but the main reason why I went and got a CGM was the fact that I managed to acquire an insulin pump by the HS.
That insulin pump, I got that because I was going to go traveling, and it allowed me to have one type of insulin with me, but the insulin pump has a lot of configuration. Other people they choose own [unclear 00:06:41] as a diabetic insulin pump, therefore they must be cured.
It behaves like the pancreas. We couldn’t be further from the truth. You get an insulin pump, it’s just making your condition that much more complicated. But gives you that much more flexibility to manage your diabetes.
[00:06:56] [Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, so what’s the difference between an insulin pump, we’ll have to dive into diabetes now so people can understand the importance of all of this stuff, but let’s just talk about the insulin mechanism for a second here. So when you’re a diabetic, whether it is diabetes 1 or 2, you’re using insulin at times to help you stay in the right blood sugar zone. Is that correct?
[Tim Omer]: The basic summary, everyone has a pancreas. The pancreas produces insulin and in very simple terms insulin converts food you consume into energy. That is a very simple explanation of that. You have two types of diabetes, type 2 that you hear in the press and is generally in all the newspapers about the high costs of HS management, etc. It’s a real issue in the western world right now.
Type 2 is where you have a pancreas that is just not performing as well it could be. So generally you are still producing insulin, but not enough to sustain your lifestyle, and that’s mostly managed by diet and exercise and typically caused by a lack of decent diet and exercise. So that’s the majority of the diabetic world is type 2.
Now type 1 is where your pancreas basically packs in completely. You do not produce any insulin and to replace your pancreas, most diabetics go on to injections. There are two types of injections. There is rapid acting insulin so when I consume food I need to take the right amount of insulin for that food to accommodate the food coming in.
Also my body requires a background amount of insulin, a basal, so over 24 hours of slow releasing insulin, and that’s another injection that diabetics take once or twice a day. It gives a slow release of insulin.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, so it’s two different types.
[Tim Omer]: That’s the two different types, correct. Again, for a diabetic type 1 it is a balancing act. How do I give myself enough insulin to cover what my body requires for the food I consume, but how do I avoid giving myself too much or I end up with a very low blood sugar levels if I give myself too much insulin which can result in you passing out, going into a coma, potentially death, or if you don’t take enough insulin, very high blood sugar levels, long-term complications associated with blindness, losing limbs, etc.
[00:09:12] [Damien Blenkinsopp]: Do you know what the rough values you are supposed to [be at], where are the extremes you are supposed to stay out of?
[Tim Omer]: So basically as a non diabetic you’re usually sitting around 4.5, I believe, I may be wrong here, a minimum of blood sugars or something, anyway, the number is 4.5. The 4.5 score. What it’s actually measuring is . . .
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That is correct, it’s millimolar. These are actually UK measurements though, because a lot of people at home are used to the mg/dL so while you’re explaining that I’m going to look up an old calculator so we can translate this.
[Tim Omer]: Please do. That would be great to assist me on that. I say 4.5. Beyond that, I don’t really care much more. It’s just a number. So 4.5 is like the holy number, the holy grail I’m going after.
I don’t really want to go much below 4 for me as a person, so this does slightly change on every diabetic as well, but for me personally if I get below of 3.5, I start to suffer, my performance degrades, basically other people would associate it with being drunk. So as you go below 3.5 I suffer.
Anything I’d say below 2 or 1.5 we are entering real danger territory. Personally, I’ve been quite lucky. My blood sugars have gone quite low, as it does happen to all diabetics, and I’ve been okay, but it can be quite dangerous going that low.
On the upper scale, my aim is to stay below 7. Anything below 11 is acceptable now and then. You don’t really want to go much above 11. But throughout a day, you can jump between those two values multiple times. Type 1 diabetes is very much a real time situation and you feel the impact if you make a mistake pretty quickly.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, for lovers of the metric system. I don’t know if we’re all going to move everything to metric one day, maybe. It would be really awesome if the world just used one system. So the values that Tim just gave out there, so the lower value was 1.5 millimolars so that’s what you want to stay out of if you don’t want to go into a coma is 27 mg/dL.
That’s pretty damn low, so for a comparison, when I was doing my fast, I was in a 55 mg/dL and I think I bottomed out around 50 mg/dL with very high ketones which is a different situation, so obviously another energy source supporting me. What you’re aiming for Tim was 4.5 millimolar, correct?
[Tim Omer]: Yes, that’s correct.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yea, so that’s 81 mg/dL and I think we all know that’s a pretty good range. People talk about 75 to 80 as an ideal range there with diabetes 2 and just people in general. Then 7 was your upper range where you go to sometimes and you try and stay below. Is that right?
[Tim Omer]: Um-hum.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yea. So that’s 126 mg/dL so it fits as well. After you’ve had a meal and so on, you expect it to go up to around that and then drive back down. So even when you’ve had a meal you’re still trying to stay roughly below that or just have that as a top upper limit of where you bounce up to.
[Tim Omer]: Well, in an ideal world you’ll always hitting your ideal number, but the reality is it’s just not possible. Even as a non diabetic you’re blood sugars going to spike, especially on the western diet what we are fed upon and believe to be good for us is generally quite bad for your blood sugar levels, hence increased type 2 diabetes.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Which we’re going to discuss soon.
[Tim Omer]: Oh yes, we can discuss more. As an example, I know we’re going to touch on this more, but my artificial pancreas app I’m using right now, so in the best, was it mg/dL?
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yes.
[Tim Omer]: That’s the first time I’ve ever had a break out of what that actually means. So high value, the system kicks in as at 125, the very low value that it kicks in to correct is 80 and in my target I’m trying around 100.
So that’s how my system is set up, so those are trigger points where it tries to do something. The other numbers, obviously those were extremes. You don’t want to get that high or that low.
[00:12:57] [Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, right. So you’re aiming for a 100 because that’s a little bit different to some of the public knowledge out there.
[Tim Omer]: That is correct. It’s a realistic aim, should I say. In the UK formats, about 4.5, that is more non diabetic. If a diabetic can stay like that, that is a good day. Right now, I can tell you, I’m sitting at 106.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay.
[Tim Omer]: Quite nicely in my safety lines.
[00:13:19] [Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, right. You feel pretty comfortable and you feel pretty good at that kind of blood sugar level?
[Tim Omer]: Yea. That’s something. The funny thing with diabetes, it’s not the number you’re sitting at, it’s how long you can sit at it.
So for example, if I look at my CGM now. Here’s a great example where the CGM is so useful. For the last 3-1/2 hours I’ve been quite close to around the 100 mark, so I feel quite stable. It’s when it starts jumping up and down is when you have a real problem.
Also, the danger associated with that, is you could get comfortable when your blood sugar is at 200. People do that. They get comfortable with higher and higher blood sugar levels. Therefore, they have to really struggle to bring them down.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: If they go by feeling? Is that when they’re going by feeling more?
[Tim Omer]: That is correct, yea, and all diabetics do go by feeling. Unless you start losing that, it’s quite a danger. Even though it sounds like for a diabetic they feel comfortable with aiming for around 100, if they manage their blood sugars badly over a long period of time they will get used to it being higher than that, and therefore they’re comfortable at that level.
This is where you’re in real danger because diabetics themselves are very reluctant to lower it because they feel so rubbish by doing so. The explanation would be very easy, aim for 100, but the complications and the reality behind it is immensely complicated for the patient to manage.
[00:14:31] [Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s really interesting because, I can tell you when I used to do cheat day dieting, so that would be basically eating clean six days a week and then one day a week I would eat crap, so I would eat coffees with sugar in them and donuts and whatever I felt like that day.
I would feel amazing that day. I would be so happy because obviously I am sure my blood sugar was up at 130 or 140 the whole day, and by the end of the day I would get horrible headaches and I would be ADD the whole day as well. That was the negative side effect. It wasn’t very good for performance or work.
I found it really hard to actually get anything done, but for hanging out with friends and just messing around and stuff like that, it would be great, or even go to the gym for that matter. That’s a good example to reflect on. Yes, people could get comfortable with being on a high blood sugar high all the time and then feel bad if they’re not in that zone.
[Tim Omer]: Everyone loves a sugar rush. That’s for sure. I’d say a positive side of diabetes, especially type 1, known as juvenile diabetes because just before puberty when they catch it, that’s quite common, though not always, but it does bring you up with a lifestyle of not being so used to sweet substances if you manage it correctly. That’s not always the case.
So that gave me the benefit to notice how high in sugar a lot of the western diet is and how to avoid it because my body’s never gotten used to having that high amount of sugar. We always have to try and keep that target area.
One that always makes me laugh actually is parents who give their children a bowl of sweets and fruit juice and then wonder why the kids go mental and start running up the walls. It’s because you just shoved them full of sugar and they going nuts. Is that not just the natural reaction?
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yea, I’ve seen crazy kids like that who were a real handful, and you’re putting them there in that biology zone. It’s your own fault for letting them have all that stuff.
And then they probably become even more naughty and such, so you sedate them. You say, “Oh, have some more sweets,” thinking it’s going to help.
[Tim Omer]: Yeah, exactly. So, sort of natural sugar and processed sugar, that’s the combination for an explosion, isn’t it? But again that’s the lack of education we generally have on our diets. As a diabetic, I can notice that a lot more. And it’s a lot more in my interest to watch those high-sugary food. Because I went to [16:44 unclear] I felt sick and horrible.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, yeah, because when you come down afterward. So the upper range there was 200 mg/dL, which is pretty crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that before. So when you were over that, what happens? Is it just causing damage over the longer term, or…
[Tim Omer]: Definitely, yeah. So from a long term perspective, anything above — for example, my sugar level is at 125 right now. That’s when you start saying, okay it’s starting to get a little bit too high let’s do something to correct it. At 200, obviously we’re entering danger territory there, areas you don’t want to be. You just feel sick, is the best way I can describe it. You just feel really sick. And the problem is not just that.
A lot of people don’t realize diabetes isn’t just the physical issues, it’s also mental. So if your blood sugar is running high, for example, [like that], you also have a frustration and stress associated with your body. Your body is letting you down, or you’ve made a mistake. There’s only one person to blame in these situations. Or, sometimes you just can’t find the cause.
Before I had a CGM, another good selling point for a CGM is you have those situations where you feel fine. Everything feels great, you go to check your blood sugars, and you find out you’re around the 200 block. And the level of frustration that you get hitting that is immense. So its all about how to process those situations or how do we get away. I don’t want to be told when there’s a problem, I want to be told when I’m approaching a potential issue. I need to be more reactive rather than…
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: You need to be more proactive than reactive. Like, oh I’m already in the 200 zone, and I want to get out of there.
[Tim Omer]: Exactly, and this escalates. So what happens then is you’re stressed, therefore insulin is one of the causes for you losing sensitivity. You’re stressed and that doesn’t help. You then start taking injections to try and lower it but your insulin sensitivity has gone. So therefore you start overdosing on insulin to try and fix it. Also there’s a delay between the insulin becoming active and taking effect in the body.
So you end up in a situation, as we’re humans we want to fix our situation now. So the reality is, you overdose on insulin, an hour later all the sudden your blood sugar goes crashing down, and that’s what makes you feel really bad, because you did a sudden change.
And then you have a thing called the rebound effect, where you go from being 200 all the way down to 20 within the space of 30 minutes. And then you end up doing the opposite: stuffing your face full of food, feeling really shit, feeling really rubbish. And then you rebound back up.
And this process, as I said it’s called the rebound effect, can take up to two days sometimes, of this constantly bouncing up and down, because you’re struggling to get control of your actual body’s blood sugars. I speak on behalf of other diabetics [but] I know for me, that can easily take two days where [I’m] trying to really gain control.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yes. So really the situation you’re in is an extreme compared to most of the listeners today. It’s fair to say diabetes 1 is more extreme than diabetes 2, in terms of trying to manage it and control it and the importance of that.
[Tim Omer]: Yes.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: You have to micromanage it more?
[Tim Omer]: You do. And type 2, you can only take tablets, it’s more lifestyle based. So if you adapt your lifestyle and get used to that lifestyle, then it’s easier. With type 1, it’s really [hard] because it can swing either way very quickly. Right now I’ve got very good blood sugars. In an hour, ask me again [and] it could be completely different. And that’s kind of the mental stress with diabetes; it’s not just physical, it’s very mental. It’s always constantly on your mind. And if you try to ignore it you’re not going to do yourself any favors in the long run.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, great.
[20:13] Okay let’s quickly cover our bases with diabetes. There’s two types of diabetes, and one of them, let’s talk about your situation first. Some people are born with this, and some people get it early in life. How do you get diabetes 1?
[Tim Omer]: There’s no real answer for getting Type 1 diabetes. They think it may be inherited, but again, look at a lot of families and that’s not been the case. But then again, if you look at more generations, a few generations before me, anyone with it would have died. It’s only been a kind of recent discovery, insulin.
So it’s typical around [or] just before puberty. You generally [do find] as a diabetic, more diabetics you meet, the more you realize you were diagnosed at a young age. Juvenile diabetes is the name for that is quite commonly named that. But we are seeing more and more older diabetics.
Now, whether that’s a result of lifestyle and therefore more people are getting affected by this at later an age, where it’s just circumstances, it just so happens to happen; there’s no real explanation there. But the percentage of Type 1 diabetics to Type 2, I wish I could give you a percentage, but it is minute. A minority of diabetics, as in something of like seven percent of all diabetics or something crazy like that.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, so it’s a lot rarer than diabetes 2, which has been growing over time. I don’t know if you know this, but has Type 1 kind of stayed stable while diabetes 2, which we say is due to lifestyle factors that you get this, has been growing over time?
[Tim Omer]: I’d hate to be quoted on that, but I’d generally say yes. As far as I’m aware, Type 1 diabetes I would say has been increasing. I think there is an effect, to a certain degree, of lifestyle. Maybe it’s a minute number, but Type 2 is the one that’s really on the increase. And it’s because our bodies are so good at processing the rubbish we give it, it’s only now later in life where people have been having a lifestyle of eating bad stuff does the body start to get to that point where it goes, right I’ve had enough. And the pancreas packs in — that’s my non-medical description. Let’s just be clear on that.
So for example, I had a good friend of mine, rings me up one day and he’s always been quite bad with his health — always eating pizzas, generally high processed carbohydrates, doesn’t exercise — and says to me, “Tim I’ve become Type 2.” And it’s like, congratulations you just decided to become a diabetic. I had no choice but to have this condition, stuck with it. You’ve actually chosen to become it. So you don’t have any sympathy.
And good for him, he [22:31 unclear], got into exercise, improved his diet, and now he’s not Type 2 diabetic anymore. So the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 is almost two different conditions. You know some people get insulted actually by the two conditions having the same name, because they can be so different.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, you just mentioned he reversed that situation.
[22:49]A lot of this is due to the pancreas not working so well, and in diabetes 1 is it an autoimmune issue, where actually the cells of the pancreas have got destroyed?
[Tim Omer]: That is correct, yeah. I believe that’s the case. It’s an autoimmune issue. So your body itself destroys the beta cells in your pancreas that actually produce the insulin. I would guess that’s the same for all Type 1s.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I’m mostly not sure what the Type 2 is. Because a lot of people can reverse it if they actively manage their lifestyle, get off…
[Tim Omer]: I believe Type 2 is generally the fact that your body is not accepting that insulin. So it could be that the pancreas is producing enough insulin, but your sensitivity — I have read a lot of things again I won’t be quoted — but it’s the sensitivity to insulin that can go.
So for example, I’ve generally had a healthy diet for most of my life [23:30 unclear]. But only in the last few years did I start looking into the right Paleo diets. And funnily enough, that’s actually more associated with gym than it was with Diabetes, because that’s not really taught with my condition. But when I moved to the Paleo diet, I found my insulin sensitivity doubled.
So it wasn’t the fact that, because I had less carbohydrates therefore I needed less insulin, correct. That does happen. But the insulin that I tookI was twice as sensitive to it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right. So before your diet was what, specifically, and what’s the time range we’re talking about here? So for most of your life your diet has been…
[Tim Omer]: So the majority of my life — I reckon less the last three years — so the majority of my life, for example, I had bowls of cereal in the morning, I would have a sandwich for lunch and typically boiled potatoes or rice or pasta, a main carbohydrate with dinner. I’d also have quite significant portions as well. I used to eat quite a lot.
And once I educated myself about the Paleo diet and the effects of those processed carbohydrates: one, I discovered I wasn’t hungry all the time by cutting back on those processed carbs I was more satisfied with less portions; and two, the amount of insulin I required dropped, clearly, so I had less carbs, but also the insulin I took I was twice as sensitive. So my body’s reaction to that insulin actually changed.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah. You’d have to lower your doses over time, and you’d take them less frequently.
[Tim Omer]: Yeah. And, again I won’t be quoted, but there’s a lot of research right now going on about the effects of high insulin in the body and what it actually causes. So there’s a lot of things going on right now, discovering the effects of high insulin. And obviously all the non-diabetics out there do have unnatural high levels of insulin because of the diets that they’re eating. So the effect of this high amount of insulin in their system is now starting to be connected to other things.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: You’re saying, I guess, health risks?
[Tim Omer]: That is correct.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So high insulin is probably not a good thing. Okay.
[25:15] We touched on the long term risks of this. We talked more about the acute risks, but the long term risks for a diabetic if you’re not managing your blood sugar within the zone as much, what kind of things [happen]? So we just say like high insulin, which obviously you’d be doing if you’ve got more variation. You’re bouncing around, you’re going to have to use high doses of insulin, and if you’re not on a Paleo diet, as you pointed out.
What kind of long term risks are there for higher blood sugar in general? So if you’re constantly around 120-140, does that do some kind of damage over the longer term? Does it affect your longevity?
[Tim Omer]: In a way it definitely does. The overall effect is that it damages the capillaries, and one of the first effects you notice of that is your sight. So you’ll start to lose your sight, basically. And I’ve known one or two people who’ve had the high blood sugar levels. Funny enough actually, these people were both females because high blood sugar levels help you lose weight and the result of that you actually end up partially sighted.
In the last few years, they’ve now started taking photographs of Type 1 diabetics eyes, the retina at the back, to see that damage. And even me, as a 20 year diabetic with reasonable control, not perfect, I’ve got the signs of a slight bit of damage. But that’s expected.
So basically it’s one of the first things to hit will be your eyesight, and then, god, I don’t really have a list of complications in front of me but all sorts of nasty things happen with blood sugar levels, you really do not want to encounter. Let alone just the day to day effect that it must be having on you system.
You also, in high blood sugar [levels], your body will produce ketones, so it’s kind of like a poison. You’re literally poisoning yourself if you have very high blood sugar levels over time.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right.
[26:51] Just to jump in on that note, because there is a lot of talk on the internet on ketoacidosis, which is extremely high ketones. Do you know what range that is?
[Tim Omer]: Again, it would adjust slightly based on the diabetic, but it’s generally taught that anything above around the range of 11, in UK numbers. Above that, you should be checking for ketones.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right. So that’s millimolar, and easy one this time since the US actually uses millimolar as well. And that’s the same as the numbers I’ve given out in previous podcasts. So we all get that one. Eleven, so that’s pretty damn high.
And so is that what happens when you have very low blood sugar? What kind of mechanism is driving high ketones for a diabetic?
[Tim Omer]: High blood sugar levels.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Oh high blood sugar gives you high ketones. That’s interesting.
[Tim Omer]: Yeah. So it’s generally taught that if your blood sugars are above 11, then you should be checking for ketones in your urine. Reality is that doesn’t really happen quite often. But the advice is if you do discover ketones in your urine is immediately go to Accident and Emergency. And it’s that critical that your body is poisoning itself.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: What actually is happening there? Is it the pH of your blood changes? Do you know what the ketoacidosis refers to?
I don’t know myself. I do know that there’s a difference between, because there’s a lot of discussion on the internet, so I just want to make it very clear. I’ll have ketones when fasting at seven, or eight, it goes about as high as that. I could bump it up a little bit more if I took some exogenous ketones, like beta-hydroxybutyrate or some other products that are out now. But these are not dangerous conditions, basically. We don’t get the same impact on our blood and the same negative mechanism.
So I’m completely safe within those. Because a lot of people on the internet start talking about this. You go into ketosis, and they say, “Oh my god, that’s really dangerous, that’s what happens to diabetes.” It’s not at all the same thing, and it really comes down to the difference in these ranges again. Right? So seven, eight millimolar is fine, and when you’re pushing up there to 11 that’s when it becomes problematic.
[Tim Omer]: Yeah. So the Diabetes UK website ketoacidosis DKA diabetic is basically a severe lack of insulin, and the body cannot use glucose for energy, and the body starts breaking down other body tissues as an alternative energy source. So I don’t really want to read that [29:03 unclear].
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So there’s actually a very different mechanism there. There’s something going on where your body is breaking you down and it’s creating this situation where you can’t absorb glucose anymore. So that’s not like when we fast or something like that. Just to make it clear. Or when we go on a ketogenic diet, a high fat diet, that’s not at all the same mechanism.
[29:21]So you’ve done a Paleo diet for a while, for three years now, did you say?
[Tim Omer]: Kind of, yes. I was traveling for a year so it was a struggle to do it then, but I do my best to have kind of a low processed carbohydrate diet. So, should we say 60% Paleo 40% normal would be realistic percentages.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right. Do you have a lot of protein? Because I know Paleo these days, there’s a lot of differences in what people are doing. So when you say Paleo, it’s mostly you’re eliminating the grains and…
[Tim Omer]: Yeah, the majority I’m eliminating [is] grains and also eliminating white potatoes; I’ve switched now to sweet potatoes. Those sort of things. I’m not so much into dairy, to be fair. But without eating cereal, the main source of dairy kind of disappeared with that as well. So again, I don’t eat Paleo to the point where I walk into a restaurant and freak out, but I eat it to the point where I try and keep my diet as healthy as possible. The difference in cereal especially really makes a difference in blood sugar once you get rid of cereals in your diet.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So when you say cereals, is that oats or what types of cereals?
[Tim Omer]: Any breakfast cereal basically. Anything that is breakfast cereal is general a kind of grain based. So Weetabix used to be mine, [they] always raved on about how it has a slow release. And the reality as a diabetic, especially with a CGM, you look at CGM, it’s not slow release.
[30:39][Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great. So let’s dive into continuous glucose monitoring. What motivated you to start that? Because I assume it one point you were using pin-prick devices, and when did you make the switch?
[Tim Omer]: So yeah, as we were saying earlier I had acquired an insulin pump before I went traveling. One because I wanted that tech and two because it meant I only had to travel with one type of insulin so it made my life easier. With an insulin pump there’s a lot of functionality there so you can really tailor the background basal release of insulin over 24 hours. But how can you guess how much insulin you’ll need over that period if you don’t have a way to see what your blood sugars are over a period like that?
So the kind of NHS taught way, I believe, is kind of like, you have these days where you try your best to be as normal as possible, or miss breakfast and see what your blood sugar is [31:28 unclear]. It’s really difficult to try and get a life that boring. I actually did those tests and they suggest taking a blood sugar every two hours. But again, a lot can happen in two hours. So I can go high to low in minutes, let alone two hours.
So to have a real time reading of your blood sugar to help you calibrate your insulin pump, well I would dare say it’s almost impossible without the CGM. And that’s what drove me to get the CGM device.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, so a normal diabetic would do this every two hours, so say eight times a day or something like that. And obviously it’s not getting as fine a picture. So you mentioned a lifestyle impact there. You said you kind of have to have a boring lifestyle, you’re not able to do things because you’re not aware of where your blood sugar is going to be.
[Tim Omer]: You have to discover what your background insulin has to be. You have to, obviously, not disturbing your body in any amount, so one not consuming food, two not being too active, three not being very stressed. And then you try and have those periods of time, generally over a morning, lunch, or evening, overnight, have those periods of time where you can see what is your body doing? Is your blood sugar slowly creeping up, slowly creeping down? It gives you an indication of how much insulin you need per hour of that period.
Now, the reality of life, when do you get those quiet periods? I’ve been trying to do that calibration for the last three or four years, and have not been able to get those quiet periods in my life. So to do it via that mechanism of checking every few hours over that quiet period is really, really difficult.
So a CGM, it can give you that more real time information. So yes, it’s still beneficial to fast, yes it’s still beneficial to have those quiet days, but at least I know what’s happening in every five minute intervals.
So in those two hours if I’m finger pricking, I have no idea if I suddenly crashed and rebounded; I don’t know. It’s only two data points, I have no idea what’s happened. Also, if I do that test every few hours and I’m a five, what does that mean? Does that mean I’m going up, does it mean I’m going down? It’s a point in time value, it’s not really an indication of what the trend is. You know, where is your body kind of directing itself?
[33:28][Damien Blenkinsopp]: You mentioned there’s a number of things that you’re kind of looking at there, which I guess are things that you’ve learned; you said stress, activity, and food are the main inputs, what you’re thinking about when you’re thinking whether it’s going up or down.
Are these the main inputs? What have you kind of discovered from using a CGM over time? What things maybe are you surprised about? What kind of things is your blood sugar going up and down with that you’ve learned over time?
[Tim Omer]: It’s allowed me to understand what’s happening, and that in itself, even if there’s a problem, is incredibly valuable. It’s allowed me to notice when issues are potentially going to happen. So the general CGM, if you start going up high quickly or if you hit a threshold, while you still have hit that threshold at least the system can alarm you.
So you can deal with the issue. So in some ways it’s empowering the patient. As we described earlier, having a day where I feel fine, check my blood sugar and suddenly discover I’m 15 or 200, and oh no. I want a system that can at least assist me and take away some of that mental stress of constantly having to guess what’s actually happening.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right. And that decision making, is it like taking away some of that having to think about it, so you can get on with other stuff in your life?
[Tim Omer]: Well not from a CGM perspective. In the artificial pancreas, yes. And we can come to that more in a second, but from the CGM, all the CGM does is give me more information.
So again, it’s like actually with a pump. Great, you have a pump, your Diabetes is cured. No, I have a pump my Diabetes is now that much more complicated, but I am now more empowered to deal with it. The same with CGM. It doesn’t cure my diabetes, it gives me more information. And what is more stressful, and for some people it’s too stressful; they get rid of the CGM. So it doesn’t help me manage my Diabetes, it gives me the information to help me make better judgment calls.
[35:13][Damien Blenkinsopp]: So, we’ve spoken about the insulin pump. Is that something you attach on you and it automatically injects you, versus having to do injections? You just kind of pump it and it injects you? How does that work? What’s the difference there?
[Tim Omer]: So what we described earlier, there are two types of insulin: one that happens over a long period of 24 hours, and the instant action one when you eat. So what the insulin pump does is it has one type of insulin inside it, and that’s the rapid action insulin. It has a profile on the pump, so ideally it can deliver very minute levels of insulin over the course of a day. And that level of insulin I can tailor the pump how much it gives me over that period.
So for example, a lot of diabetics have a thing called the dawn phenomenon, which basically means in the morning they have very high blood sugar levels. Unless somehow you can wake yourself up when that happens and inject yourself, you can’t manage it. With an insulin pump, you can at least tailor your profile to say deliver more insulin in this morning period to accommodate for the fact I know I have naturally high blood sugar levels. So that’s kind of one of the real powerful things with the insulin pump.
Second, obviously as we said as well, it gives boluses, so shots of insulin at any point in time. Just the same as taking an injection, just take a lump of insulin with the food you are eating. That in itself doesn’t sound like much, but let’s say for example you for a barbecue. What happens in a barbecue? You normally eat over a period of two or three hours. As a diabetic I’d have to be injecting myself constantly over that period.
With the insulin pump I can control it through the pump or the remote I have for it, and basically set it to give me an insulin injection now, another injection later. So I can kind of give myself the insulin as I might require it, and my lifestyle doesn’t have to be so controlled. I can be a bit more relaxed.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: A bit more flexible.
[Tim Omer]: Exactly.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: First of all, this sounds like it’s an implant, the insulin pump is an implant.
[Tim Omer]: Yeah you are correct. The insulin pump is a small pager device that has the insulin. It has a tube that comes out of that and goes to a cannula, like a little device that just sort of sits in my stomach. It sounds worse than it actually is.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That did sound quite bad the way you said it.
[Tim Omer]: But a cannula is kind of like a little plastic tube that goes into your stomach and you fire that in by a little device that just sort of smacks the skin and puts it in for me. And that stays on for about three days until I rotate to another site.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, so you actually push it in yourself into a different area; so it doesn’t go in very deep?
[Tim Omer]: Yeah, correct. So I rotate the area myself. I have a special device; most insulin pumps will have this, it’s like an insertative device. What typically happens is it kind of fires it in, and the reason for that is the actual impact of it hitting your skin is kind of more distracting than the effect of the needle going inside you.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right.
[Tim Omer]: But once you take the needle out, the only thing that’s left is a hollow tube. That’s, I think the ones I use are about 8mm long that go into the skin.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And then you can remove those tubes afterward when you go to a new site?
[Tim Omer]: You literally just peel it off. It’s like one of those things, the first few weeks you freak out…
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: As with everything.
[Tim Omer]: You almost go mad, and then suddenly you just get used to it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, that’s the same with most stuff. Okay cool.
[38:02] So in terms of changes you’ve actually made, how long have you been using a continuous glucose monitor now?
[Tim Omer]: Permanently, actually only for the last six months, really. So the way I sourced my original CGM, I bought it secondhand off eBay in the US. Because I used one the NHS lent me for a week. They got all my data; I went and showed it to them, and they said, “Oh, we can’t really make much information from this, we need you to use it for longer.” So I said great let me have it for longer. “No, we can’t afford it.”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So why did they give it — I guess it’s just politics, I assume — but why give it to you for a week if they can’t use it?
[Tim Omer]: It’s generally down to costs. Diabetics on insulin pumps — I actually do have these numbers — from March 2013 there’s a survey, and I believe it’s about 6% of diabetics have pumps.
Getting an insulin pump is very difficult, you really have to hit a decent criteria. And even if you hit that criteria and NICE guidelines in your favor, if they don’t have funding you don’t get one. So to get a insulin pump itself is a challenge. The number of patients on CGMs, again the criteria for that is even tighter. It’s so tight I actually don’t know anyone who is on an NHS funded CGM.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay, so it’s very rare to be on a CGM.
[Tim Omer]: Very, very rare to be on one funded by the NHS. So the majority of people self-fund it in the UK — it’s different in the US with health insurance. So, with the frustration of only having the CGM for one week, and it being useless, in the US a new model came out and everyone started trying to flog their old models on eBay. eBay [couldn’t] quite take listings down quickly enough, because they weren’t allowed to sell medical devices. So I managed to nab one of these CGM devices, called the Dexcom Seven Plus.
A few weeks later it was in the post, and this device turned up in front of me with these two horrible looking needles that looked like something out of hell raiser. Out of date but still sterile. And I had to stick them in my stomach. So the whole process to do that, I have to say, was traumatic beyond belief, having to stick something inside you that you have no real medical guidance on. But that just goes to show the power and how useful day-to-day data is that I’m willing to take that risk.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So to cover the horror story part; if we think about the current technology that’s available in the market, Dexcom and others, currently is it the same situation where you have something quite horrific you have to plug into you? Or is it a little bit getting more friendly than that?
[Tim Omer]: Now I’m using the Dexcom G4 system. The process to stick the sensor in you is the same. It looks, honestly, more scary than it is. The process of actually sticking it in you is more scary than it generally is. But I’m guessing the process just isn’t natural. You don’t really want to be sticking needles in you. And and also you have to push to plunge it down, so you feel the sensation of it hitting your skin and going inside you.
So it’s all kind of, one of those things your gear yourself up for, you do it, and then say, “I don’t understand what the fuss was.”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, it’s more psychological.
[Tim Omer]: It definitely is, it’s definitely psychological for sure.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: How deep does it go?
[Tim Omer]: Oh, good question. I’d say about, it goes in at an angle unlike the insulin pump cannula. There’s a bit of metal that’s left in there, and it goes in about a centimeter and a half I’d say. I think.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay at an angle, so it’s not going all…
[Tim Omer]: That’s true, but the problem I have is that I don’t have enough fat on my body; I’m quite lean, that’s annoying. So I can notice it a bit more, and sometimes it comes a bit too close to my muscle fibers.
The system is generally designed to go into your stomach, where it is more fatty, but the reality is you move your stomach a lot, and it therefore lasts a less amount of times. So I actually stick it in my upper arm.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay. So you have a choice where you [can put it]; it’s not specifically built and will only work on one part of the body. You can plug it on your upper arm and it will [work].
[Tim Omer]: It’s medically signed off to be in your stomach, for children I believe it can go on a thumb cheek. But it does definitely work elsewhere, yes.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Alright, excellent. Good, we’re past the horror story.
[41:48] Are there other makers? How many of these are on the market right now? What’s the cost of this? How much did you buy it for and how much would you buy these things for, brand new?
[Tim Omer]: So the main two players are the Medtronic and Dexcom in the UK market. There is another company who produces something similar called the FreeStyle system I think. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s very popular right now in the Diabetes circle. It actually works by NFC, near field communication. So it doesn’t give real time readings, but you can tap it for readings. And that’s an implant as well.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, I was actually looking at that one recently. It seemed like there were a lot of complaints. This is just from my reading around. There were a lot of complaints about it, and I was wondering if they put it off the market. Because I was looking at buying one and it seemed like it wasn’t available currently. So I was wondering if they were figuring of looking at it, because it seemed like a lot of people were having problems with it getting broken, basically, and having to return it.
[Tim Omer]: Well I have a lot of suspicions about the system, because it doesn’t quite calibrate as well. I don’t really quite understand how you do not have to calibrate it to a patient, I don’t get that. Also, that system only works by being tapped; it’s not in real time. So, I have a lot of questions in my head why. Do they know something’s not as accurate, or I don’t know.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So when you say it’s not in real time, you have to tap it every time you want to take a reading.
[Tim Omer]: Right. Like an Oyster card that you tap in on the Tube. You have to tap that with the reader and it gives you a reading. So it’s not as if like the Dexcom and Medtronic devices I have a pager in my bag and every five minutes it gets a reading. With the Libre system you have to tap it. Now I did speak to someone actually the other day and they did tell me they had done a recall because there had been some issues. So I would say your thoughts are correct there.
So I use the Dexcom G4 system, and it’s shall I dare say renown, it’s been one of the best on the market. The downside, as with all of these things, is obviously the cost. And a CGM it’s damn expensive. I have numbers on my blog, but the cost of the G4 at the time I did the blog page for the first year it’s just under 5000 pounds, and then after that it’s just under 4000 pounds. This is a really expensive system to maintain.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And are they consumables? What’s the base cost versus…
[Tim Omer]: Definitely is consumable, that’s how these things works. So you have the sensor that actually goes in your arm, that’s in theory only supposed to last a week, and then you rip it off and put up another one. That sensor costs about 60 pounds.
You then have a transmitter, which is a plastic thing that clips on top of the sensor and that broadcasts the actual reading every five minutes. And that’s a consumable that lasts approximately six months, maybe up to a year if you’re lucky. And then finally you actually have the receiver itself, it looks like a mini smart phone, that actually gets the readings.
So when I came back from traveling I wanted to start using my old Seven Plus CGM and I discovered that the transmitter, the little device that sits on top, the batteries had died. And when I researched the cost, it was — again, I can’t give exact numbers here but it isn’t cheap — something like 600 to 500 pounds for this transmitter. Where the cost of the batteries inside are no more than a couple of pounds.
So, personally I felt quite insulted by that. I wanted to use a medical device that’s helped me use my readings and clearly the markup on this was ridiculous. So the first thing I did was research the process actually how to access those batteries, and found other people who had done similar. I managed to cut the transmitter open by slicing the top off and popping the batteries out myself. So approximately five pounds later I had a device that would have cost me around 600. So the potential for savings were massive.
So this year when I wanted to move onto the G4 system, I can’t afford 5000 for the first year. I do not have this cash knocking around. But the actual community of diabetics, a lot had happened since I’d been traveling in 2014 and they all started to develop a lot of different ideas of how to access that data. And there’s an offshoot for this, a guy called Stephen Black developed a device called xDrip, which is like a little Tic-Tac box. And in it it basically has two circuit boards; one is a radio device that picks up RF frequency from the transmitter, and the second circuit board is a Bluetooth device that then relays it to your mobile. So you can actually get rid of the receiver for the system by using this device on your mobile phone.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So you’re using your mobile phone and this device.
[Tim Omer]: Yeah so you’re using this xDrip device, which looks like a little Tic-Tac box, and the xDrip mobile app. So by using those I don’t need to get the receiver, which itself is I think about 800 pounds to a 1000, something like that. So that was one cost down.
So the final tackle was the new G4 transmitter. There are people everywhere binning these every other day that are perfectly good devices, just the battery needed [to be] changed. So a few kind people donated their transmitters to me and I managed to, again following some other people’s guidance, managed to hack open and replace the batteries.
So for a really low cost I managed to get a G4 system where the impact was only me buying the sensors. So my consumables had gone down to just the sensors I wear. And if you’re tactical with the sensors, you can actually get up to three weeks to four weeks out of them, not just one week.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, and that’s because one part of that was you were lucky that there were a lot of people selling these on eBay at the time, the original Dexcom.
[Tim Omer]: Yeah the original one I bought on eBay that has end of life, so I was lucky to get that. And I paid about 400 or 500 pounds for that. And then moving to G4 system — I had to move to that system because the old one was being retired — I managed to get it working by a donated transmitter that I replaced the battery, building my own receiver with the xDrip stuff, and then still buying the retail sensors but making them last up to four weeks rather than one week.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Wow. That’s a hell of a cost reduction there.
[Tim Omer]: Massive. So, as we said earlier, the cost of the first year is roughly 5000. I brought that down to just over 1000 in the first year. So the saving was 3,500. So that’s massive.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And so other people could repeat this.
[Tim Omer]: Yes, definitely. Other people are doing similar, so I wasn’t the first person to discover any of this, really. I was the first to, or one of the first, shall we say, to actually go into the CGM world with the attitude, I do not want to buy a manufactured system. I need to get this to a point where it’s affordable. Or what’s the point I’m not able to use it.
[47:59][Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right. Is this called the DIY community?
[Tim Omer]: Yeah. In a very small nutshell, and I’m not going to do it justice, but the community We’re Not Waiting is a collection of basically diabetics or diabetic assistance — family members or hackers — all helping to make better use of the technology. And there’s two core projects that have come out of that, and they all revolve around individuals who wanted to better access their data. And therefore things came out of that.
One of them is called Nightscout, and that basically was originated from some parents who wanted to monitor their children remotely. So for example, say you’ve got your child on the Dexcom, they carry a little device in their bag and they wish to stay over a friends house for the first time. As a parent, you’re freaking out. You’ve constantly monitored this child from a young age, you have no way of knowing how they are.
So what they found was a process to link the Dexcom receiver, the little pager device, to a mobile phone [and] download the reading every few minutes. And once the patient had control of those readings on their phone they could do what they wanted with them. So what they did is develop a system called Nightscout and basically published it to a webpage. So this then blossomed into a community, where a lot of people are contributing towards it, and benefiting.
Then later on to Stephen Black who developed the xDrip app, the little Tic-Tac box I said that picks up a signal and pops on your mobile phone. So this was a wider solution. And what that allowed was first to not have things cabled together that’s just unreliable. They allowed you to take control of data on your mobile phone. And again, what would you want to do with that? Some people then published it to their website.
Stephen then developed an application that actually sends it to a smartwatch. So right now I’m sitting here with my smartwatch on, a Sony smartwatch that cost about 80 pounds, and I have my real time blood sugars on there. So rather than having a device in my bag or my back pocket that’s a pain in the ass to get out and check, something that I should be checking pretty much every 10-15 minutes to see what’s going on I now have on my wrist.
Now the quality of life improvement by just taking the data already produced and putting it somewhere more accessible for me is massive. I can’t even begin to describe the quality of life you get from that. Just having better access to your data. And that’s what the community discovered was if they could free that CGM data, then the patients can be creative in how they wish to visualize and view it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah. And it really has a big impact on their flexibility, and just their quality of life.
[50:32] So you mentioned that these things have to be calibrated. I understand that they’re not as accurate as a pinprick device, if you take the standard pinprick and then the strip that you use to assess your blood sugar. Are these not as accurate, or they can be as accurate? What are you dealing with there?
[Tim Omer]: The official term is they’re not. They definitely can be if calibrated correctly. And what I mean by calibration is every 12 hours you do have to prick your finger and draw blood and basically tell the CGM system what the reading is. And then it understands approximately whereabouts the reading it’s receiving, I believe it’s like your intravenous fluids, it reads it from there.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, rather than directly blood, yeah.
[Tim Omer]: Rather than direct blood, correct. So it calibrates it to that.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: What have you found when you were doing it? Are you pricking yourself once per day or twice, morning and evening?
[Tim Omer]: So generally I’m pricking myself, if the system is functioning and I’m comfortable with it, then it will be once every 12 hours. Sometimes it’s up to three or four times every 12 hours because it’s very easy to miscalibrate. So for example, if my blood sugars are suddenly moving very quickly and I calibrate then, then the system becomes quite unreliable. It still has a decent trend; I can still see if I’m going up and down, but the reading it gives me will be off by a fair amount.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Well how much would that be? Is that…
[Tim Omer]: It really could be anything. So in a good day it would be, say, out by 1 unit, and this is the UK measurements I’m going here, by one unit roughly. And if it’s within one unit that’s generally classified as pretty damn good. I’d be quite happy. But it can be up to four if it’s been miscalibrated.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So we’re talking about eight milligrams per deciliter, or something like that, could be. Yeah, your one unit.
[Tim Omer]: So for a lot of people that freaks them out, but the power of the CGM is not necessarily giving the most accurate reading, it’s more the power of seeing the trend. So I know if I’m going up or down, or something is changing.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Or if you’re going up really quickly.
[Tim Omer]: Exactly, yeah. So don’t get me wrong, having a well calibrated device is amazing, but having one that’s not as good calibrated but still a lot of value in the system even though the numbers are slightly out. Now I know with a G4 system, I believe I’m correct in saying that, even if the system tells you something and you wish to act on it, the strict medical guidance is you still have to prick your finger. Because the system is not really designed to be a complete replacement.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I get you. So how do you use it? You personally. You make changes based on the trend you’re seeing?
[Tim Omer]: You have to be careful as well because there’s such a thing as over calibrating. As I said, with all these things there’s no right or wrong way, really it’s kind of a fine line balance.
So I personally, before the artificial pancreas stuff that I’ve worked on, I used the CGM more as information gathering. So are my blood sugars good when I think they are? Are they going down or up quickly? Is there something not right here? Is my carbohydrate to insulin ratio for my meal correct? Am I spiking too much after a meal?
The CGM is just like this constant feed of data and the limitation here is not the system — the system is very good — it’s the patient, because I’m just human. I can’t process that much data and understand what’s going on and benefit from it, and then configure my insulin pump to react, if need be to changes.
I’ve now gone from a point where I’ve had very little data and a lot of guessing to now where I am overloaded with data. I’m overloaded with CGM readings, I’m overloaded with the insulin pump that has more features than I could possible use. I’m overloaded by logging all my carbohydrates, my boluses, my exercise. I’m constantly producing all this data, but as an individual it’s mostly wasted.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I think it’s always important to come back, what do you actually look at now? If you kind of take a step back, what are the things you actually do look at now in terms of when you’re looking at it?
Is it you’re just looking for when it starts to rise quickly or drop quickly? Are those the main things that you’re taking into account? If you pull out a week’s data, what are the things that you notice and you think are interesting?
[Tim Omer]: So to be honest the only stuff I generally use it for is real time information. So what am I like now, where am I going, am I headed up or down? I’ve recently eaten and I feel pretty misjudged so I need to take more insulin. So it’s all real time that I benefit.
Now, this, again we can go on a whole long conversation here on historical data, but typically we’re lazy. I’m lazy; I can’t be bothered to look at my historical data. I struggle with dealing with the real time stuff rather than historical. But this is again, this is not an issue myself, this is an issue with the lack of usability of the technology around me. There should be ways to analyze that data for me and give me suggestions. And there are things in the community being worked on to benefit from that.
[55:05][Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, so I guess that would be like looking at your diet and stuff. So I know that we spoke before about some things that you’ve noticed over time with respect to time to glucose change, and things like that we were speaking about. So one of the things we discussed last time was that nuts, one of the things you learned is when you eat nuts.
[Tim Omer]: Yeah, so that’s an interesting one and another great example, actually, of the benefits of CGM. For a few weeks I was noticing I was having very high blood sugar levels over night, and I couldn’t quite understand why. And over time I slowly realized I was consuming nuts before going to bed on those days. And nuts are high in protein and have a very slow release; they’re generally quite good. But, for me anyway, apparently they cause a spike in my blood sugars.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: How long did that take? Was it over a few hours, or more?
[Tim Omer]: I think it was about two hours, actually. Or maybe less, maybe about an hour and a half. But it was very noticeable. And once you found the pattern it was easy to produce and easy to fix, because I could give myself insulin, but with my pump with insulin being delivered over an extended amount of time. So it was ready to kind of cope with that spike later.
And again, that’s another benefit of the CGM, the fact that you are now aware of these things. If not, I’d have just been asleep. Or maybe those blood sugars would have fixed themselves, maybe they would’ve rebounded, and I’ve been woken up with a severe low. You just don’t know. But now I have access to that information and can see what’s going on.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, and you can decide not to eat nuts before you go to bed as well.
[Tim Omer]: Well yeah, that’s been a challenge, that one.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Oh yeah? It’s just a thing you like to do. Cool.
[56:30] Are there other types of proteins or other things you’ve discovered which you’ve actually changed or you’ve had to think about managing more that you’ve learned from the CGM?
[Tim Omer]: Definitely cutting out breakfast. Cereals for breakfast, that’s definitely quite an easy one. Noticing the spike with coffee; I do like to drink a coffee a day.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s interesting. Could that just be black coffee, or is it…
[Tim Omer]: I generally have mine quite milky, because I’m quite a wuss. So obviously it’s kind of carb based as well as caffeine. The best way I can describe it is like wearing glasses for the first time. So you’re partially sighted, you know the world’s around you, you know things are going on around you, but you can’t see. You put glasses on and suddenly it’s all clear. Now the negative side of that is you are suddenly overwhelmed by everything.
So there’s a lot more stuff that CGM can help me with that I can’t possibly process. And that kind of comes on to the artificial pancreas stuff that I’ve been working on, which actually uses this day to day to help manage my medication.
So, earlier we spoke about Nightscout, and that’s one project in the community. There’s another one called OpenAPS, an open artificial pancreas system. Again, a bit of story behind that. A couple met, Diana and — oh dear, my mind’s gone blank. I apologize, I should know this. I was only talking to them last night.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Don’t worry, we’ll look this up afterward and everything will go into the show notes. So for everyone at home, the post Tim mentioned on his website and all the links to that kind of stuff and everything else will be at thequantifiedbody.net/CGM and you’ll have the links to everything we mentioned. We’ll look them up afterward if we need to.
[Tim Omer]: Thank you. I can definitely say now I’m not doing the community justice or I’ll be talking here for a lot more than an hour. So anyway, this couple built a system. They captured CGM data and used it to give themselves a louder alarm, because their alarms weren’t loud enough. So at times Diana would sleep through the night and not hear the alarm. And then they captured more data and they suddenly realized, actually with all of this data we can do a simple algorithm.
In extremely simple terms, it basically says I can see my blood sugars are starting to go up [from] CGM data. I know how much insulin I’ve given myself by capturing treatments as you do as a diabetic. Therefore, I clearly don’t have enough insulin in my system. Therefore, let’s increase the background insulin on the pump.
So that’s system basically, it’s called a closed-loop system. So it takes the readings in real time, it processes the information that it already knows about the patient — the stuff I have to log as a diabetic — and it does slight adjustments to my insulin pump. The algorithm is very simple and that’s an extremely simple description I’ve just given you.
But when I started working with the xDrip stuff and getting the CGM on my phone, I suddenly realized how now I own this data, what do I want to do with it? Well, I want to integrate this OpenAPS code and import it onto a mobile phone. And right now it just runs on [59:10 unclear]. So there’s a bit of a cable system, where it’s all cabled together.
So what I have done is basically got a mobile app that now takes my carbohydrate consumption I have to log anyway, it takes my boluses, insulin I take, that’s being logged. It has a wizard in there that helps me calculate how much insulin I need based on my sensitivity and what I’ve calibrated for it. The app still requires a lot of calibration. The app knows how my insulin pump is configured.
So what it can do, it can see the real time readings of blood sugars, and go hang on. I know what Tim’s consumed, I know how much insulin his pump is delivering, I can see his blood sugars are going high, for example. Let’s give himself a little more insulin to prevent that. And that’s a closed-loop system.
So now I’m not just sitting here producing data that I struggle to analyze, I’m now putting that data to work. My insulin pump itself is Bluetooth. So technically there’s no reason why my mobile phone and my insulin pump cannot talk to each other. It’s just the manufactures and regulation bodies that don’t want it to happen.
Technically it can. So, right now I have a system called an open-loop. So what happens every 15 minutes it takes all this information. If it thinks I should adjust my insulin pump, on my Android wear watch it pops up with a message and says, “Tim make this adjustment to your pump, based on the prediction I’ve given.”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Giving you information for you to decide.
[Tim Omer]: So open-loop is it notify me to action. So I’ve been notified on my phone, I acknowledge it, and I manually adjust my pump. That’s open-loop.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That still looks great, because it takes a lot of your decision making out of it.
[Tim Omer]: It’s surprisingly, actually, quite powerful. And again, like we said, it’s that mental stress. Now I’m not constantly looking at my CGM and panicking on what to do to prevent something.
And again, I’m human; I’m going to overreact. I constantly do things wrong. I don’t know how well educated I am. Now, the system suggests — so I just wait for the system to give me a suggestion and I act on that. I’m now working with someone to help me hack the Bluetooth interface on the pump. Once that’s done, I’ll have a thing called a closed-loop system.
So not only will it do these calculations every five minutes, because that’s how frequent the data can be, it will action at every five minutes. And always doing these very slight adjustments every five minutes. It’s not going to give me a load of medication at once, or removing medication. With the insulin pump, I could turn it off potentially, so naturally let my blood sugars come high. I’m just doing very tiny adjustments every five minutes.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right. And that way you reduce a lot of the risk as well. Because you’re making such minor adjustments even if it’s wrong, it’s not going to be really out of line.
[Tim Omer]: Absolutely correct.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah. It’s better than your judgment. Will you feel more confident about this, or as confident as your own judgment?
[Tim Omer]: Well I’ve already discovered that I have less rebounds. If I don’t fight with the system and I let it [be], one it kind of triggers itself before I realize a problem, because it’s obviously checking my data constantly. So I get an early opportunity now to give myself more insulin or less insulin, depending where I’m going. Also the system will say, hang on, I’ve delivered quite a lot of insulin for you now, I’m actually going to stop. And if I acknowledge that and accept it, I am less likely to overdose myself.
So I find that I still go high and low, this will never go away. That’s a fact of life with Diabetes. But I find that the system can better manage and make decisions rather than me being emotional and overreact. And even though, as I said, the system’s not completely automated, even now if my sensor dies on me and I have a gap without, I’m a bit lost. I’ve gotten used to this system taking this worry away from me.
Now the interesting thing is there are 16 people, I believe, to date who are actually using this system fully closed. They’re using slightly different equipment than me. So they have a slightly more technical set-up, shall we say. They’re using Raspberry Pi, it’s using some older hardware. My device is more of a plug-and-play kind of install and it works. With a lot of calibration, that is.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So they’re doing closed already.
[Tim Omer]: They’re doing closed, yeah.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So it’s hands-off completely. They can monitor it, they can check it, but it’s just actually pumping itself. It’s taking care of it.
[Tim Omer]: Right. So they walk around with a little bum bag on, basically, with all the Raspberry Pi with bits in there. So it’s not an elegant solution, shall we say, but it’s very useable. And even parents are using this on their children. So this is kind of, you can see the power behind such a thing. People are very enthusiastic.
[1:03:23] The interesting risks my device brings, is mine is an Android app. So once you install the app and set all the settings — again, most of the settings as a diabetic you should know because it’s all typical stuff you have to understand. And if you have the right equipment, insulin pump and the CGM data, it’s a very easy system to set up.
And that introduces a lot of potential dangers as well. Because now you’re not forcing the system to be only, you have to be highly technical to implement it. I’m kind of bringing that barrier down. What does that mean? It can potentially be a high risk situation. So I’ve got to be very aware of what code I release, and who accesses it, and how we manage that barrier.
You know, the typical situation, you get a parent whose child is diagnosed: “Oh no, this is terrible. Oh look, there’s an app out there that will fix it.” And with pure ignorance just install it thinking it will cure the Diabetes. Again, my app makes my life easier, but it does make it that much more complicated still. Because I have to make sure the app is correctly configured.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, because you’re going to rely on the technology. So if the technology has a bug in it, if the app has a bug in it and maybe just turns up in a specific situation, like once every seven days or it doesn’t get spotted, then there’s that kind of risk there for someone who’s, like you say, not technically savvy to not see it. Or it just kind of goes unseen.
[1:04:36] Does this tie in with, I know you have the #wearenotwaiting?
[Tim Omer]: Yeah, and that is the community. So the community I utilize in that #wearenotwaiting, and well the name explains itself. It’s basically the frustration of diabetics in the lack of access to their data, lack of capability between devices, and the lack of progress.
And one real frustrating things as a diabetic is that you constantly have so called experts who are not diabetics making decisions for you on what equipment you get, and how you should look after yourself. And unless you live with the condition, whether you’re a good or bad expert, you’re still the expert. So, the community has kind of taken it upon themselves to kind of produce these better solutions to improve the quality of life for people.
Again, there’s loads more information on that on my blog and where the hashtag came from and the rally cry between people saying we’ve had enough. The technology is already here, and we’re already producing the data. If I can sit on my sofa and control my life from my phone, why the hell can it not talk to my insulin pump. This is not a technology problem.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yes, it seems like it’s more of a regulation and things that are medical to market and managing that risk. That’s kind of the thing, it seems, that’s really holding things back.
[01:05:46] So, just for people at home, this has also been called a bionic pancreas as well as an artificial pancreas. The goal is really to just replace that body part which isn’t working that well in diabetics, right? The insulin pump, and just completely replacing it.
[Tim Omer]: That is correct, in simple terms, yes. As with all of these things to configure and manage it is a bit more complicated, but all it’s doing is monitoring that data and helping me make decisions. And that’s helped me in real time.
There are still a lot of benefits of data mining that data I capture and giving adjustments to my profile and how I treat myself. So that whole world is there to be discovered still. And there’s an open source company called Tidepool who are doing great researching in that area and publishing a platform where [you] can number crunch.
But the artificial pancreas stuff is all about giving me some kind of benefits right now. So for example, I can look at my artificial pancreas app, I can see even though I’m having a late lunch today that my blood sugars haven’t started dropping. And if it did start dropping it would tell me, and therefore allow me the opportunity to adjust my pump. So my blood sugars don’t go too low.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So this is pretty cool stuff, because it’s one of the first projects where it’s actually replacing a body part with this closed-loop system, as you call it. So it can just start operating. Kind of like if you took something out of the Terminator and put in your body, if you use a science fiction analogy.
I think it’s also interesting. A lot of people have probably see the press around Theranos, the big blood testing company in the US recently. That company was actually based on a patent for something similar to what you’re talking about, but for drugs. In terms of it would automatically pump drugs into patients of all different types based on readings taken from something like a continuous monitor of their blood.
And so you can see many, many applications with you guys leading the charge, because Diabetes is common and it’s a very specific blood monitoring and insulin pumping situation. But you can see how this could eventually apply to many different areas, whether it be oxidative stress and pumping glutathione into your body. Or other adjustments to optimize your biology. So I think it’s really interesting.
[01:07:47] Just wanted to make sure we do cover the legal regulatory system a bit better.
So currently the FDA and all of this is saying you’re not allowed to do this. So of course you’re not allowed to sell these devices. Is it fine for you to do this at home? Obviously there’s the risks everyone should be aware of, because if you’re not technically savvy this is DIY project at the moment. It’s not like it’s 100% signed off and stuff and it hasn’t gone through compliance testing and trials to make sure it’s 100% safe.
So how would you put it? The kind of situation for people at home if they’re interested in learning more about this, and what they should be aware of in terms of the risks and legal situation.
[Tim Omer]: So one thing to really highlight regarding that is with all the devices you can get right now, every risk here is delivering medication. That’s the real risk. If I misconfigure my insulin pump, I could still kill myself. So the risk always exists; there’s no solution on the market that removes complete risk. So you’ve always got to be aware that whatever you’re utilizing has to be utilized correctly, or there’s the potential for serious harm.
And there’s already commercial products out there that have bugs, and have had issues with them come up. So it comes down to, while the open source stuff is obviously not therefore going through the same regulations doesn’t mean the stuff that has gone through regulations is therefore perfect. You always have to be aware.
Now clearly with a community producing this open source, the main reason for that is to try and get it out there sooner. If I tried to commercialize a product I would basically be looking at X number of years in research and development. And rightly so; I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I want a better quality of life, and I kind of want it now, and I have the data and systems in front of me.
So it’s up to me if I wish to take code that’s available out there, that’s been published, and I wish to utilize it myself in something that gives me a better quality of life, that’s my decision. And that’s what I want to do, and it works for me.
Now, that’s the question everyone else needs to ask. There is a lot of code out there and a lot of information. Whether it works for you, whether you feel comfortable and understand it is a decision and a path you need to follow yourselves.
It’s not that we all hate the regulatory bodies or the actual manufactures themselves; they have a difficult job. But the reality is, the cost of managing long-term conditions has not gone down. The NHS already acknowledges that. There’s a wealth of individuals out there with a lot of knowledge and are now utilizing that in a technical way. How do we embrace that community and somehow introduce it into our kind of care pathways? No one knows.
We’re at the point now where the regulatory processes, they’re designed for a world 100 years ago. They weren’t designed for a world where in two months I can develop an artificial pancreas out of my app on my mobile. That never was possible; it now is.
So what do we do? Do we just ignore it and try to brush it to one side, or do we have to learn and try and discover how we cope with that? So I don’t have answers for that; no one does. And that’s one of the things that makes this so exciting and interesting. How do we utilize this?
And a lot of talks I give are kind of like, this is happening, it’s going to continue to happen. No one knows the answer, but let’s all start talking now and how do we control the risks. And there always will be risks.
So if people out there are interested, there’s a lot of information out there. If you’ve got the enthusiasm you’ll find it. My blog has a lot of details on where to go to get more data. Be aware of what you’re trying to do. It’s very easy to make a mistake, and anything you do if you’re messing around with your health the risks can be quite severe.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great, great. Thank you, that’s great.
I think also just the fact that the movement exists is going to force companies to step up and move along, otherwise they will get left behind. So whatever happens in that situation you’re providing this positive pressure on innovation.
[Tim Omer]: Yeah, definitely. There’s already a believe that has taken effect. Especially Dexcom, they released some equipment recently and it’s believed it was fast-tracked through the FDA process more because of the community advancing the head of Dexcom, so therefore there’s no commercial product. So apparently it has already taken effect out there.
[01:11:51] And also, one other thing I do want to say, is a lot of the closed-loop trials right now, so a lot of the artificial pancreas stuff, is happening behind closed doors. They’re all trying to work on systems that are more 100%. Systems that kind of do a better job, more automated, manage more, and not only deliver insulin but also the glucagon, which can push my blood sugars up if need be. They are very complicated systems. And as a diabetic, if I can have something that can give me just a 10% improvement on my life, I’ll take it now.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right. So you’re kind of saying that they’ve tried to push for the perfect solution. Whereas something that’s half as good is still going to improve everyone’s lives by a measure.
I guess it could be the model because when you’re trying to get FDA stuff, when you’re trying to run trials it’s a bit expense. So I guess they’ve got to think, okay we want to make a big stab at this. We want to make sure it’s a really good product if we’re going to invest all this money and getting it signed off with the FDA. So it could be, basically, the regulatory process that drives that.
[Tim Omer]: It most definitely can be. And it’s interesting, because I speak to some professionals in that area regarding the work, and you can see they kind of fight internally between the medically trained side of them, and then their inquisitive interest side. And one bit is kind of offended that you’re even considering doing stuff, and the other side is respectful of the fact that you’re trying to help yourself as patients. You know, reduce your burden on yourself and the health.
The NHS we have to rely on, and one of the questions I remember getting asked before was, “How do you know this is helping your diabetes if you don’t have the statistics?” And my reply was, “I feel more empowered as a patient.” And that in itself, if that’s what we’re getting from this, feeling more empowered, that’s quite a big achievement.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I think it also goes, as you were saying, technology is moving so fast now, and it’s moving faster and faster it’s going to be increasingly difficult for organizations. They’ll have to innovate in their models and decision making models –and governments as well, in terms of their funding and everything — in order to keep with the times as technology is going to be enabling people, enabling these kind of things, which is really cool.
But I think it’s going to challenge these organizations to change the way they work, because I think decisions are made really at a lag; it takes years to make decisions and move things into the market. And I guess that’s where frustration is coming for you guys, wanting to just go with the technology and what’s possible versus waiting for those processes to take place.
[Tim Omer]: Definitely.
According to the NHS I’m statistically a good diabetic, and for the NHS paperwork perspective that’s great. From a quality of life and how long I’m going to live, I’m not as good as I possibly can be. So, to say I’m a good diabetic is fine, but don’t prevent me from making my quality of life better. I want to go beyond this disability and I want to do the best I can. Because at the end of the day, it’s going to be my life that’s going to suffer from this.
So the ability to be empowered so I can help that is a significant mental win.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Excellent. I think these are exciting times. With all the health tech that’s coming up, this is going to more the case where we have these options to kind of push forward ourselves if we want to solve things and make our lives better. So there’s going to be a lot of things like this coming up in the future.
[01:14:52] Okay, last question for you. We ask this question of everyone. What would be your number one recommendation, based on your personal experience using these kind of things in terms of using data to make better decisions about your health, and to others if they just want to use data. What would you suggest is the number on recommendation for this?
[Tim Omer]: So it’s all and good my phone telling me something, and then me just reacting on it. If I don’t understand why it’s telling me that, then I’m just going down a dangerous path. Now I need to have an understanding why things are being recommended. Why trends have come up that were not there before.
Having systems like this doesn’t mean your diabetes goes away, it means you get a better understanding of it. So if you don’t try and understand that information, that’s not good.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Excellent point. Thank you very much for that.
Thank you so much for your time, I appreciate it. We went over a little bit longer and everything. I think this is relevant to a lot of different areas, and what you guys is doing is kind of at the forefront, just because of your specific situation. So it’s interesting to everyone.
[Tim Omer]: It’s also interesting [01:15:48 unclear] actually. It’s also going into other areas. So I have a guy who’s trying to build a deaf community based on hearing aids, basically: a hearing aid community. And they’re trying to raise the same hashtag now, we’re not waiting, and develop their own open source hearing aid because the costs are so high. So it’s contagious.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah. It’s going to be exciting times, I think. The next five, ten years. The technologies are getting simpler, right? In terms of trying to use them. Because as I understand, you’re not even a developer. I think I read that somewhere.
[Tim Omer]: No. I’m an IT professional, but programming is a hobby. And I kind of get the gist of it, but no I’m not a developer. And now I’m producing an app that gives medical suggestions. That’s pretty nuts. The barrier of entry is so low. And the tech, my insulin pump is like seven years old, the technology.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.
[Tim Omer]: That’s insane. Would you walk around with a seven year old laptop? So the technology isn’t new, it’s not expensive to produce. It’s just the markups.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Really appreciate having you on the podcast, it’s been a great episode. You’ve got this hands-on experience and you’re pushing things forward so it’s a really interesting perspective on a DIY approach to making things better for yourself and using the tech out there. So thanks a lot for coming in today.
[Tim Omer]: It’s been a pleasure. To everyone out there, there’s a big community out there and they’re really doing a lot of work. I only touched on very tiny amount of it. So if you’re interested, get out there and have a look around; there’s a lot of really helpful people.