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Bionic pancreas could be life-changing for diabetics

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February 20, 2014

Scientists at Boston University are trialling a bionic pancreas

Scientists at Boston University are trialling a bionic pancreas

For people living with type 1 diabetes, a constant process of monitoring and adjusting blood sugar levels is required. A change may be on the horizon, though. A bionic pancreas trialled among 30 adults has been very well-received by the participants, and has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for three transitional outpatient studies over the next 18 months.

People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin, a hormone that is required to control the level of sugar in the bloodstream. As a result, blood sugar levels can vary dramatically, causing potential damage to body organs when too high, or confusion and loss of consciousness when too low.

The device comprises a sensor inserted under the skin that relays hormone level data to a monitoring device, which in turn sends the information wirelessly to an app on the user's smartphone. Based on the data, which is provided every five minutes, the app calculates required dosages of insulin or glucagon to maintain optimal blood sugar levels and communicates the information to two corresponding hormone infusion pumps worn by the patient.

The bionic pancreas has been developed by associate professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University Dr. Edward Damiano, and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School Dr. Steven Russell. To date, it has been trialled with diabetic pigs and in three hospital-based feasibility studies amongst adults and adolescents over 24-48 hour periods. The upcoming studies will allow the device to be tested by participants in real-world scenarios with decreasing amounts of supervision.

The first study will test the device's performance for five continuous days. Twenty adults with type 1 diabetes will use it between 7am and 11pm, during which time they will have access to a 3 sq mi area near Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Accompanying nurses will check the participants' blood sugar levels every two hours to ensure the device is working. Participants will sleep at a hotel, where their blood sugar levels will continue to be monitored throughout the night. The results will be compared to a corresponding five-day period during which the participants will be at home under their own care without the device.

A second study will be carried out using 16 boys and 16 girls with type 1 diabetes, testing the device's performance for six days against a further six days of the participants' usual care routine. The third study will be carried out amongst 50 to 60 further participants with type 1 diabetes who are also medical professionals. They will wear the device for two weeks at home and monitor a comparative two-week period without the device.

Should the transitional trials be successful, a more developed version of the bionic pancreas, based on results and feedback from the previous trials, will be put through its paces in multi-center pivotal trials during 2015. The device will be a single, dual-chamber insulin and glucagon pump, without the need for being paired with a smartphone app. It will be tested in hundreds of participants with type 1 diabetes over a six-month period, with the results compared against participants in a control group using their usual care routine.

If all goes well, Damiano hopes that the bionic pancreas will gain FDA approval and be rolled out by 2017, when his son, who has type 1 diabetes, is expected to start higher education.

Source: Boston University via USA Today

About the Author
Stu Robarts Stu is a tech writer based in Liverpool, UK. He has previously worked on global digital estate management at Amaze and headed up digital strategy for FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology). He likes cups of tea, bacon sandwiches and RSS feeds.   All articles by Stu Robarts
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5 Comments

I'm pretty sure the sensor is measuring glucose levels in interstitial fluid, not hormone levels.

TJG
21st February, 2014 @ 07:35 am PST

I'm not clear how this is different from existing insulin pumps.

William H Lanteigne
21st February, 2014 @ 09:31 am PST

william- this is using existing insulin pumps but pairing them with CGM technology and creating dual chambers that either deliver glucagon or insulin depending on blood glucose readings. that's how I interpret this.

I'm more confused about the third study they describe "....50 to 60 further participants with type 1 diabetes who are also medical professionals." Are they recruiting actually medical professionals with diabetes?

turbolove
21st February, 2014 @ 04:52 pm PST

Why is anyone still mucking about with mechanical systems that have to be refilled with insulin?

Remember the tests in sheep that had their pancreases removed and eyelet cells injected into their livers? It worked, same as the pancreas.

Were there any human trials? There's more money in treating chronic conditions than there is in curing them!

Same thing with the test of a bunch of dogs that were paralyzed from injuries. Researchers took some olfactory nerve cells from each dog and in one group injected the nerve cells at the site of spinal cord damage. The other group just got the fluid from the olfactory nerve.

100% of the dogs that got the cell shot recovered all or most of their hind leg function, so the other group was given the cell shots with the same results.

If I was paralyzed and heard about that amazing result, I'd be saying "Stick a needle up my nose!"

Imagine that, (literally) one shot cures for type 1 diabetes and paralysis, but the medical industry is still messing about with insulin pumps and robotic exoskeletons.

Gregg Eshelman
21st February, 2014 @ 11:52 pm PST

What makes this device Interesting is that it is an dual-chamber insulin and glucagon pump...so if your blood sugar rises the pump increases insulin dosage and if your blood sugar decreases it adds the much needed life saving glucagon ergo the Bionic Pancreas descriptor given name.

Sam Joy
24th February, 2014 @ 11:59 pm PST
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