The History of Insulin Pumps

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The First Pumps

The first insulin pump was designed by Dr. Arnold Kadish in 1963.  It was a very large device that was essentially worn as a backpack.

A more wearable version, dubbed the “big blue brick” was developed in the late 1970s.  A lack of accuracy of the device, however, made the device more of a hindrance than a help.  It was not until the 1980s and early 1990s that the insulin pumps were designed with more accuracy and user-friendliness.  The early insulin pumps were not easily programmable as are the pumps available today.  Some pumps even required the use of a screwdriver in order to adjust the flow rate of insulin, making them difficult to tune and very inaccurate.   It was not until the technology boom of the nineties and the shrinkage of technology that ensued that the pumps became a viable option for most people.

Initially, insulin pumps only delivered a basal rate of insulin.  This meant that often injections were needed to supplement the pump which hinders the usefulness of the pump itself.  The main marketability of insulin pumps are two-fold:  one, it is healthier and easier to maintain homeostasis with a constant supply of insulin, and two, pumps allow more freedom to live life without having to plan out and calculate simple tasks such as snacking or exercising. The early models of the pumps were thus lacking in practicality as they could not accurately provide either benefit.

A picture of the first experimental

insulin pump from the early sixties. Taken from:

A picture of an infant on an insulin pump. 


A "Big Blue Brick" early insulin pump released in the seventies

underneath a modern glucose meter,

taken from:

Children and Pumps: Good or Bad?

 Pumps were initially avoided as a treatment option for young children because doctors feared that children would not appreciate the seriousness of the device and its controls.  However, as time progressed the insulin pump became a more popular treatment option for children.  Rae Lynn Johnson, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at Arkansas Children's Hospital acknowledged, "Children have the greatest respect for their disease and understand the equipment is not a toy. We've seen that children usually respond better to the pump than to injections." Arkansas Children's Hospital is where in 2000 ten day old Maverick Colt Roe became the youngest pump user after his blood glucose levels skyrocketed to more than 10 times the normal amount.  Maverick's pump controls were locked so that he and his 21 month old brother would not be able to tamper with the controls.  Insulin was delivered at the basal rate and then his parents were able to administer additional insulin as needed with the simple press of a button.  In only 2 days, Maverick's glucose levels were stabilized.


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