Researchers involved in two National Institutes of Health-funded studies have developed a ‘bionic’ pancreas that monitors a patient’s blood sugar levels and makes Type 1 diabetes more manageable.
Created by researchers at Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the experimental device is not actually an organ or something transplanted within a patient’s body.
It involves three parts: two pager-sized hormone pumps, connected to the body through thin tubes inserted under the skin, and a small “brick,” combining an iPhone and continuous glucose monitor, to coordinate when each hormone should be delivered, co-author Edward Damiano of the Boston University Department of Biomedical Engineering told the USA Today.
One pump delivers insulin, a hormone that lowers blood sugar, and the other deliver glucagon, which raises blood sugar. Glucagon is often used as a “rescue” drug or an antidote for insulin, as almost 10 percent of diabetes-related deaths are due to hypoglycemia, or accidental insulin overdose, according to CBS News.
Results, which are published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that the device did a better job of monitoring and managing blood sugar levels than the patients who monitored levels on their own. The device kept blood sugar levels more consistent than those without the device.
Additionally, researchers found patients in the study needed 37 percent fewer interventions for hypoglycemia.
“What we're building is a system that uses glucagon like a brake in a car,” Damiano told CBS News. “The insulin is like the accelerator and the glucagon is like the brake system.”
The device would allow for people with Type 1 diabetes to do away with the standard stick-your-finger testing for blood sugar levels and manual insulin injections, as well as the worry of keeping up with unpredictable blood sugar changes after meals or daily activity.
“It's a fully autonomous soup-to-nuts solution,” Damiano said. “You enter the patient's body weight. That is it, and then it just starts controlling blood sugar. Basically, it takes the burden of day-to-day diabetes management off your shoulders.”
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