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Dana Lewis
Dana Lewis at her work station, showing off her artificial pancreas system. (Courtesy of Dana Lewis)

Dana Lewis doesn’t do things by halves.

In 2013, she started a project to tweak the alarm on her glucose monitoring system, a device that Lewis and thousands of other people use to manage type 1 diabetes.

More than four years later, the project had become much more than that. Lewis is the creator of the Do-It-Yourself Pancreas System, an entire artificial pancreas that includes a blood glucose monitor and an automatic insulin adjustor.

That means Lewis doesn’t have to constantly monitor her insulin and glucose levels and can sleep through the night without being woken up by her glucose monitor alarm.

But she didn’t stop there. Lewis is also the founder of the “open source artificial pancreas system movement (#OpenAPS, which now has more than (n=1)*250+ people worldwide using DIY artificial pancreases), and a passionate advocate of patient-centered, -driven, and -designed research,” as she told GeekWire.

Lewis is our latest Geek of the Week, and she explained that the mathematical “n=1” concept is central to her work because it reflects the uniqueness of every person’s experience with managing diabetes.

For those of us whose math geekiness isn’t as strong as Lewis’s, (n=1)*250+ translates to over 250 people around the world who have built their own artificial pancreas systems, with help from Lewis.

“It’s very relevant in the OpenAPS story, because each individual has built their own rig/system and is using it, rather than 250+ people using the same ‘one’ thing. There’s instead (n=1)*250 ‘things’ in use, and all of them are likely varying degrees of different depending on how that individual built, customized, and is using it,” she said.

Lewis also said the mindset she and other OpenAPS advocates bring to their work can be transformational in any field.

“I challenge you to think about what work you’re doing; and what would it take to accomplish it in 1/10 of the time,” she said. “I’m finding that so many of the ‘barriers’ to research and innovation are easily sidestepped/broken down when you’re truly willing to apply the #WeAreNotWaiting mindset to it!”

Lewis will be speaking about her experience building the DIY Pancreas System at the “What’s The Fix?” Conference in Seattle this June.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Dana Lewis:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I kickstarted the #OpenAPS movement to make basic artificial pancreas technology widely available because #WeAreNotWaiting (we can’t, when there are lives that need improving TODAY, not just in 5 years). And although my specific innovations often focus on tools to help people with type 1 diabetes (like me), I am also working to scale the impact of the DIY/maker/(n=1) movement more broadly in healthcare. This includes actively supporting patients from other communities in their own work, because I think the #OpenAPS movement is the tip of the iceberg in terms of how people innovating and solving their own problems will revolutionize the way we think about healthcare. And the other ‘why: I’ve always believed that ‘Doing something for someone else is more important than anything you would do for yourself.'”

Lewis on a hiking trip in Switzerland. (Courtesy of Dana Lewis)

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “The #WeAreNotWaiting approach is not unique to patients (although we have real motivation to do so). I challenge you to think about what work you’re doing; and what would it take to accomplish it in 1/10 of the time. What can you really do in the next week, month, year if you step outside of normal approaches and really think about how to achieve your goals? I’m finding that so many of the ‘barriers’ to research and innovation are easily sidestepped/broken down when you’re truly willing to apply the #WeAreNotWaiting mindset to it!”

Where do you find your inspiration? “The real world! I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for 14+ years, and I’m ‘lucky’ to have a disease that is so data-driven (I have blood glucose data that I use to calculate how much insulin I need). This makes it easy to experiment and create additional tools to automate decision making and data processing — and ultimately improve my quality of life. Most of my innovations and cool hacks or tweaks have come from a moment of frustration in my real life on the go… and then I stepped back and thought ‘how can I automate or use technology so I don’t have to do this again?’ Rinse, repeat, and soon you have a habit for finding inspiration everywhere!”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Can I name a collection of devices? ;) My hybrid closed loop ‘artificial pancreas’ rig — which combines a small computer, radio stick, and battery to communicate with my continuous glucose monitor and send automatic adjustment commands to my insulin pump.”

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “When I’m at home, I love having multiple monitors, multiple pancreas rigs, and a pile of different shapes and sizes of sticky notes nearby!”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Automate everything. Use IFTTT, or your own tools, to automate yourself out of mundane tasks that aren’t worth the brain power of remembering or doing over and over again. You’d be surprised at the kinds of things you can link and hack together. Also, write down and share what you’ve done. Because I do a lot of support/troubleshooting in the #OpenAPS community, I’m especially dedicated to documenting everything. Once we’ve answered a question 2-3x that’s not in the docs, I document it because I know it’ll come up again later and it’s a lot easier to post a link in Gitter than it is to re-type information on my phone over and over again when I’m on the go.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac for everyday, Linux for pancreas development.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Do people watch TV anymore? ;)”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Cloak of Invisibility.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Create processes and systems to facilitate truly patient-driven research and scale innovations from patient communities.”

I once waited in line for … “A Harry Potter book release (and won the trivia contest so I jumped the line and got a free copy).”

Your role models: “Everyone in the open source community. I am constantly blown away by the generosity of individuals who give their tools (and their time) freely to the world to be put to good use.”

Greatest game in history “Uno.”

Best gadget ever: “My artificial pancreas, of course.”

First computer: “An old XT.”

Current phone: “iPhone 6s.”

Favorite app: “Twitter.”

Favorite cause: “#WeAreNotWaiting.”

Most important technology of 2016: “OpenAPS.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Something where machine learning is finally put to good use?”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “You can make an incredible difference in your corner of the world. Don’t worry about not being a traditional programmer/engineer/whatever you think you aren’t, and don’t wait for permission. Take what skills you have and go put them to good use!”

Website: DIY Pancreas blog

Twitter: @danamlewis

LinkedIn: Dana Lewis

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