The Progress Toward a Bionic Pancreas for Type 1 Diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is not able to produce insulin, which is crucial for managing blood glucose levels. That is why those who have this metabolic condition, have to always monitor their blood glucose levels.
Whenever they need to stabilize their blood sugar, they inject insulin. But, too much insulin can drop the blood glucose to a dangerously low level and cause hypoglycemia. Young children who don’t pay attention to their blood sugar levels may be in great danger.
According to statistics, those with type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of premature death than those without the disease.
That is why scientists have been trying to develop the bionic pancreas for type 1 diabetes.
Bionic Pancreas for Type 1 Diabetes
Kaitlyn Labbe is someone who has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes since she was 6 years old. She says that not a day goes by without being reminded that she has the disease.
She even falls asleep at night thinking that her blood sugar will fluctuate while she is sleeping. So, she rarely gets any sleep out of fear. But, ever since the early weeks of 2017, Labbe has let a machine do most of the thinking for her.
Labbe participated in a study at the Massachusetts General Hospital and agreed to wear an artificial pancreas. This artificial pancreas administered the exact right amount of insulin her body needed to stabilize her blood sugar levels.
She says the effects were amazing. She even managed to sleep peacefully for decades. Labbe says this discovery is truly a gift.
The Development of Bionic Pancreas
For the last 60 years, doctors have been saying that the artificial pancreas is just around the corner. But, the way to creating it has proved more challenging than anything else.
The latest model that Labbe tested was created by a team of professional researchers led by a biomedical engineer Edward Damiano, a professor at the Boston University. After countless trials, researchers were finally able to automate blood sugar control fully.
Three different groups also funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive & Kidney Diseases issued clinical trials of the latest automatic systems that are supposed to manage the blood sugar.
To conduct this research, more than $100 million were spent since 2004 by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. They issued more than a dozen projects focused on developing and creating an artificial pancreas.
The Latest 670G System
In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration approved Medtronic’s MiniMed 670G system. This system is completely automated and releases the patient’s burden from managing diabetes.
The goal of this new system was to obtain a reliable control of the blood glucose levels, without having the patient monitor them at all times.
The Discovery of Insulin
When insulin was discovered, many believed that it could cure diabetes. But, that proved to be false. Even though insulin lets those with diabetes live longer, it doesn’t eradicate the disease.
Also, it can cause some side-effects like kidney disease, vision loss, and other more serious health complications. Before insulin was discovered, children with type 1 diabetes, couldn’t live past 20 years old.
What’s the Real Problem?
Even if we know that insulin can’t cure diabetes, but simply stabilize it, the main problem still remains. It is very difficult to know how much insulin should patients use to keep their blood sugar in check. Testing the urine might prove useful, but it may also be inaccurate.
The main problem is, as we mentioned before that people don’t know how much insulin they need. As a result, they end up using less out of fear of dropping their blood sugar levels.
In the end, this problem can cause hunger, rapid heart rate, perspiration, and other symptoms. In other words, this can cause hypoglycemia. This problem is usually responsible for many visits to the emergency department, especially in the U.S.
The First Wearable CGMs
As the years went, the development of the artificial pancreas slowly fell into place. As the insulin pumps improved, so did the options for accurate blood sugar measuring. In the early 2000s, the first CGMs that were wearable hit the market.
Even though the early versions were unreliable, in time, researchers managed to improve their precision. A CGM has a small sensor inserted under the skin. It is worn outside the body and can detect the fluctuations of the blood sugar levels.
The readings are displayed and updated every couple of minutes. Once the blood sugar drops or increases too much, an alarm signals that something Is wrong in the body.
This device could prove useful for effectively monitoring blood glucose levels and deliver the necessary insulin.
Is It Safe?
The FDA is nervous about letting a machine administer a life-saving and potentially dangerous drug. They are afraid that a glitch may interfere with the machine’s power to control diabetes.
According to statistics, more than 30,000 people in the U.S. are expected to use the 670G system by the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018.
Medtronic claims that it could potentially eliminate 75% of diabetes load, says Jason Gensler. Mister Gensler at first felt very uncomfortable with trusting a device to inject insulin. Eventually, with the help of the 670 G system, Gensler learned how to manage his blood sugar levels.
He says the device is mind-blowing.