A better way to live with diabetes may be around the corner, thanks to a new artificial pancreas.
For the first time in real world trials, scientists tested out a "bionic pancreas," a device that uses a smart phone, a glucose monitor, and an insulin pump to control blood sugar levels for people with Type 1 diabetes. The device was used on children and adults with this condition.
As you know, living with diabetes often means insulin injections throughout the day, constant monitoring of glucose levels and selective planning of each meal. However, the artificial pancreas helped ease these concerns.
The new technology exceeded researchers' expectations by reducing average blood sugar levels to what's well below standard-care therapy, study senior author Edward Damiano, an associate professor in the department of biomedical engineering at Boston University, told HealthDay.
"Everyone in the trial said that burden was all lifted," Damiano, a father of a 15-year-old son with type 1 diabetes, explained to the source. "The device is inherently automated - it's diabetes without the numbers."
Healthy drop in blood sugar level
In the study, 52 people tried out the bionic pancreas, comparing five days on the device and five days on normal treatment. In the adults, average daily blood sugar levels were 159 milligrams per deciliters (mg/dL) with their usual management. When they switched to the bionic pancreas, that dropped to 133 mg/dL. The amount of time spent dealing with low blood sugar levels was cut in half.
For the kids, their average blood sugar fell from 157 mg/dL to 138 mg/dL. The trials were funded by the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
How the bionic pancreas works
The artificial pancreas contains two hormones: insulin and glucagon. Insulin lowers blood sugar while glucagon can boost blood sugar quickly. The current version of the bionic pancreas has two insulin pumps, one which delivers small doses of insulin and the second for glucagon. The device wirelessly communicates with a smartphone app, which in turn controls the pumps. It also constantly reports blood sugar levels.
Christopher Herndon, 13, was one of the patients who tested the device. Herndon wore it while at a special summer camp for kids with diabetes, and he reported that his blood sugar never dropped low enough that he had to sit out of any sports. He said he could have skipped regular blood sugar checks if they hadn't been camp policy.
"It is like a dream for a diabetic," Herndon told NBC News. "It takes away the responsibility. It takes away the high blood sugar and the low blood sugar. It prevents damage to the body and it makes you feel better all the time."
Damiano said that within 18 months he hopes to have a single integrated machine that contains an insulin reservoir, a glucagon reservoir, a continuous glucose monitor receiver and the computer program. What's more, the technology would demand that users insert a continuous glucose monitor sensor and two small tubes under the skin every three days to deliver hormones.
Although it's still early in the trials, this diabetes care offers a glimpse at normal life for those with type 1 diabetes.
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