Research Shows Progress toward Artificial Pancreas

Diabetes PancreasFor those with Type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes, an artificial pancreas would be the greatest gift they could receive. It has been viewed by many in diabetes research as a holy grail of sorts, seemingly unattainable to those who suffer from diabetes every day. However, a couple of studies presented at a meeting held by the American Diabetes Association may provide hope to victims of the disease everywhere.

Those with Type 1 diabetes require insulin to be added to their bloodstream from an external source. The pancreas, which typically produces insulin internally, is essentially attacked by the individual’s immune system. The cells, which create the insulin, are destroyed in the process. As insulin is required to break down glucose in the blood, this external source of insulin is necessary. Currently, diabetes patients have to either inject insulin directly into their bloodstream with a syringe or take insulin in through a catheter, a tube that has been surgically inserted into the skin.

The individual does this process of insulin injection, if he or she is old enough. They base the amount they inject into their system off how much they will eat during the day, how much they will exert themselves, and other such estimations. Unfortunately, many victims of Type 1 diabetes are children, who require their parents to guess how their children will behave during the day. If the wrong amount of insulin is injected, the patient can suffer from either hypoglycemia—low blood glucose levels—or hyperglycemia—high blood glucose levels.


The artificial pancreases currently in development would eliminate the need for this guesswork. It would maintain a constant monitor of blood glucose levels and automatically emit insulin when necessary. This would occur even while the individual is active, just like a fully functioning pancreas.


One team of researchers has an even more ambitious goal. They hope to develop an artificial pancreas of sorts that would predict how blood glucose levels would change rather than waiting for the changes and reacting to them. This is currently in the works by a partnership between U.S.-based Animas Corporation and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.


Another study validated the algorithm for determining just how much insulin is required for various blood glucose levels. The team monitored children as they slept, and had a computerized system inject insulin when necessary. However, many of the processes were done normally due to safety precautions. They hope to perform a test in the future that is completely automated. The children’s blood glucose levels remained safe throughout the night, providing them with the security necessary to sleep well throughout the night.


Other systems and devices are currently on the market in various countries that regulate blood glucose levels. One of these monitors the glucose levels, and immediately prevents insulin from entering the bloodstream if the individual’s blood sugar levels fall below a certain point. This device, though, is not currently available in the United States.


Despite their progress, each research team admitted that their devices still require a lot of work before they can go public. The artificial pancreas, though, is expected to be completed within the next five or ten years.

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