Science

This New Artificial Pancreas Could Help Type 1 Diabetes

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each year. The disease is marked by a complete shutdown of the body’s insulin production. It requires regular blood testing and insulin injections throughout the day. Now, a new artificial pancreas could soon change the entire process of regulating a patient’s glucose by making it completely automatic.

The system was developed at the University of Virginia as part of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) Artificial Pancreas Project in conjunction with other universities in the US, France and Italy. The device itself works in two parts. First, a conventional insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM) are implanted in the patient. The insulin pump releases the hormone subcutaneously throughout the day as levels drop, and the CGM monitors blood sugar levels and alerts the patient when action is necessary. This setup still requires the patient to regularly check and tweak the pump’s output, but it’s a step up from constant pricked fingers and syringes.

The second part of the system, and the crux of this new development, is… a modded mobile phone? The team has reconfigured an off-the-shelf mobile phone to act as the system’s brain — automating, in real time, the process of monitoring and adjusting insulin levels. The JDRF has already received US Federal Drug Administration approval for outpatient testing of the new system, and the first round of tests have started.

Justin Wood of Charlottesville, Virginia, was the first American to take it for a spin. “The device automates a lot of the tracking and monitoring I do now,” the 40-year-old says. Previously, he had to abide by a strict regimen of a low-carb diet and up to five finger pricks a day to monitor his sugar levels. However, he believes that with this system he’ll be able to eat more freely and reduce his number of sore digits to just two per day. According to Wood, this device is “a step forward in technology that could change my view and outlook on life”.

The system needs more testing before it can be approved for all type 1 diabetes patients. The outpatient phase will continue through 2013 and is expected to involve a total of 120 patients from the US, France and Italy. For more information on the device and the status of testing, visit JDRF.org. [Science Daily - Medical Daily - Wikipedia - UVA - UVA Health - JDRF]

Image: UVA

ONE ROAD TO HOPE: The JDRF Artificial Pancreas Project at UVA.

Almost Bionic: About JDRF’s Artificial Pancreas Project 2011.