Jewels Doskicz is a registered nurse, freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. Jewels is the moderator of Diabetic Connect’s weekly #DCDE Twitter chat, and she and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.
An artificial pancreas may not be exactly what your mind envisions.
A far stretch from systems in the 1970's that were hospital based giants, new systems are portable and promising. With the FDA on our side (yay!), we're closing the gap between research and real-time usage of an artificial pancreas.
It's hard to imagine a smartphone app that would have the capability to manage Type 1 diabetes. There are many variables, but one thing's for certain — it won't be $4.99.
What's an artificial pancreas?
An artificial pancreas isn't an implantable manufactured organ as its name suggests. Rather, it's a series of calculations performed and balanced through two smart systems: an insulin pump (to decrease blood sugar) and a glucagon pump (to raise blood sugar). The glucose feedback system is spurred by numbers provided through a continuous glucose monitor.
There isn't a 'single-system' out there, but rather multiple systems created by scientists all over the world. Good news for us, with so many smart minds in the creation process — the sky's the limit.
Read more about JDRF's Artificial Pancreas research.
The goal of this project
The goal of a completed and marketed artificial pancreas is to ease the burden of living with diabetes — particularly those living with type 1 diabetes. This is obviously not a cure, but rather cure therapy or high-tech treatment.
According to Diabetes Forecast,"Such a “closed-loop system” requires little, or possibly no, input from the user."
The system will detect sugar levels (not a blood glucose reading — the sensor is in the subcutaneous space measuring serous fluids) and respond by either giving insulin or glucagon. With the happy end result of blood sugars within a normal range; imagine saying goodbye to high and low blood sugars for good?
Walking the diabetes tightrope of high blood sugars while risking complications of the disease and low blood sugars while risking seizures and brain health is a balancing act people with type 1 diabetes do every day. Unforeseen complications and risks are possible twenty-four hours a day and the stakes are high — type 1 diabetes is unfortunately capable of unexpectedly taking one's life. It leaves nothing to spare.
Will this happen in my lifetime?
If your life is touched by type 1 diabetes, this will be music to your ears. According to Diabetes Forecast, "Within a few years, scientists are hoping to start the large clinical trials that will provide the data the FDA will use to decide whether or not to approve some version of an artificial pancreas… so scientists are now focusing on making the artificial pancreas robust, portable, and user friendly."
Three prototypes have been used at various diabetes camps across the globe for overnight studies and their results — fabulous.
Patient's in the studies report trying to break the system by gorging on french fries, sundaes and pasta — foods they normally avoid. The system kept right up with these vigorous tests, albeit unhealthy eating at best.
Robotic man/ woman
The question remains, will people with type 1 diabetes buy into such a clunky tool belt of devices? In order for the artificial pancreas to be successful, it must also be compatible with an active human being.
I remain optimistic and excited, but I already have challenges getting my pump caught on doorknobs to seat belts and everything in between — I can't imagine wearing two. I'm in love with the concept, but hope these systems can be combined into a slick user-friendly product so we can still enjoy a yoga class without getting twisted in all of the tubing.