Snowboarding With An Artificial Pancreas


When a top researcher decided he wanted to take a group of teens with Type 1 diabetes skiing for five days and use the opportunity to run a trial for the Artificial Pancreas (AP), he reached out to the Riding On Insulin (ROI) team of ski and snowboard instructors.

According to Mollie Busby, ROI executive director, it was the idea of Type Zero Technologies’ chief mathematician, Dr. Boris Kovatchev, to reach out to ROI to gauge interest in being part of a groundbreaking artificial pancreas trial. Mollie and the rest of the ROI team responded with a resounding “Yes!”. Busby said, “This opportunity was the most perfect thing for our team. We have been running day ski/snowboard camps but never had the opportunity to do an overnight camp.”

Type Zero and ROI turned to the University of Virginia Center for Diabetes Technology to handle the logistics of the trial, which included an entourage of 16 teens, 7 ski/snowboard coaches, and 12 research staff members, including an engineer from the University of Padua, all descending upon Virginia’s Wintergreen Ski Resort. And one more thing, NO PARENTS!

Of the 16 teens, 14 had no experience skiing or snowboarding. Furthermore, five had never attended any type of overnight camp, and four had never even been on sleepovers. Eight of the participants wore  an artificial pancreas and eight wore their own pumps. All 16 wore Dexcom CGMs with remote monitoring, so that medical staff could observe them 24 hours a day.

Dr. Daniel Chernavvsky, Assistant Professor of Research at the UVA Center for Diabetes Technology, explained that this trial focused on the AP and rigorous exercise:   “We know that daytime exercise can cause nighttime hypoglycemia, and this trial was looking at how the AP manages and prevents those overnight lows.”

The teens in the trial were treated like any other ROI campers — except for the ever-present research and medical staff — and were on the slopes beginning at 9 a.m. for five days. Other than a 30-minute break for lunch, the kids were active for five hours each day. Busby explained, “We always have our campers check blood glucose every 30 to 45 minutes, so having the UVA team there was just part of day. It didn’t detract at all from our goal of giving these kids a fun experience.” She added, “We got to do what we love most, which is teaching kids to ski and snowboard. It was a dream come true to be able to work with these kids for five days.”

At night, the research/medical team, under the direction of Dr. Chernavvsky and lead engineer Marc Breton, PhD., watched over the sleeping teens. Blood sugar levels under 70 were treated by the team. Chernavvsky said “preliminary results indicate that those wearing their own pumps had more nighttime/post exercise lows than did those wearing the AP.” In other words, the AP did its job of preventing those lows.

For the campers and coaches, the trial was part of the background of the experience. The time spent skiing or snowboarding and socializing with others with Type 1 diabetes was their main focus. Thirteen year old Riley Johnson, who wore the AP, said she liked the AP as “it kept my numbers flat.”   But her favorite part of the trial was the snowboarding and hanging with friends. Her mother, Stephanie Johnson, said Riley, one of those who had never skied or snowboarded before, mainly talked about the snowboarding. Riley “loved it and the staff who ran the camp!” Dr. Chernavvsky said he has received several letters from campers with the common theme of this being an “emotionally life-changing event.”

This was the first time the Riding On Insulin coaches got to work with the same kids for 5 days in a row. Camp is usually one day, then goodbye until next year. “We actually got to see kids go from ground zero to skiing backwards, doing blue and black runs in 5 days,” said Busby. She added “The parents had better be ready, because these kids were so stoked on skiing and snowboarding!”

A second session of the trial will be held April 3 – 9, 2016 in Breckenridge, Colorado. Type Zero and UVA will be partnering with the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes (University of Colorado) to allow another 16-20 teens to participate.

Riding On Insulin will proudly be there as well. Busby said, “We are honored to partner with UVA, Type Zero, and the Barbara Davis Center for these trials. These people are the most amazing people doing an amazing thing.”

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