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Researchers develop an artificial pancreas that maintains glucose levels of that a functional pancreas

Researchers at Boston University recently developed an artificial pancreas which maintains the glucose levels of type 1 diabetes patients, via a control mechanism. Edward Damiano, of Boston University, and his team conducted the clinical trial of their mechanism at Massachusetts General Hospital on 11 adults, all of whom have type 1 diabetes. The system is the first of its kind -- combining both insulin and the blood sugar-raising hormone glucagon. The artificial pancreas injects both insulin and glucagon using a mechanism that combines a blood glucose monitor and insulin pump. When tested, the artificial pancreas failed to cause hypoglycemia, also a first.

"It showed that, by delivering both hormones in response to frequent blood sugar tests, it is possible to control blood sugar levels without hypoglycemia, even after high-carbohydrate meals," states Steven Russell (MD, PhD of Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Unit), research partner of Damiano.

The immune system of type 1 diabetes patients kills the beta cells of the pancreas which are responsible for producing insulin. Insulin treatment is necessary for patients to maintain a safe blood sugar level. Blood sugar testing and insulin administration can delay complications such as kidney failure or cardiovascular disease, but is a tedious daily job. Insulin pumps are another option, but place patients at a risk for hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia is characterized by a drop in blood sugar, caused by too much insulin. So far, any administration of insulin by pump or artificial pancreas has come with the risk of hypoglycemia. Therefore, Damiano and fellow researches developed a system that would potentially eliminate that risk. Glucagon, a hormone employed to raise blood sugar, is also administered along with insulin.

The clinical study was designed to test the software that controls the artificial pancreas. Glucose levels were monitored via a sensor planted in the vein of the patient, relating information to a monitor. All patients were monitored for 27 hours, throughout their overnight stay in the hospital and their three standardized high-carbohydrate meals. Six of the patients kept a reasonable glucose levels, however five experienced hypoglycemia and were given the mighty treatment of orange juice. 

Researches conducted another study with the same patients after they diagnosed the problem with their artificial pancreas. Because not all patients absorb insulin at the same rate, those who absorbed insulin slower received extra doses, causing their hypoglycemia. After adjusting the controlling software to a slower insulin absorption rate and conducting another study, none of the participants needed a glass of orange juice to combat hypoglycemia.

In 2007, diabetic pigs were tested with this same mechanism – FDA later approved this human trial. Later this spring, a 48 hour study will be conducted, both with children and adults. The vision of the researchers: a wearable pump the size of a cell phone, that will wirelessly communicate with a sensor placed underneath the skin.

"A system like this...wouldn't be a cure, but it has the potential to be the ultimate evolution of insulin therapy for type 1 diabetes," comments Damiano. 

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By danobrega on 4/19/2010 6:42:53 AM , Rating: 1 the USA except for rich people I guess. Can a person with type 1 diabetes get health insurance?

On the other side, on countries with the so called socialized medicine people may get an opportunity at having a decent life.

Anyway, good news for lots of people. :)

RE: Useless...
By hitekcorolla on 4/19/2010 7:48:30 AM , Rating: 2
And if you can't afford it you can set up payments where if you fall behind the repo men will harvest it from you.

RE: Useless...
By jdietz on 4/19/2010 10:16:44 AM , Rating: 2
The other way is to work for a large company where their risk pool dilutes the cost.

RE: Useless...
By TheDoc9 on 4/19/2010 10:32:16 AM , Rating: 2
Useless in the U.S.? It's almost a guarantee that a socialized system would never pay for this either, not until the cost comes down significantly. Especially not when there are alternatives available that are far cheaper (shots).

RE: Useless...
By wired00 on 4/20/2010 10:12:11 PM , Rating: 2
Useless in the U.S.? It's almost a guarantee that a socialized system would never pay for this either, not until the cost comes down significantly. Especially not when there are alternatives available that are far cheaper (shots).

Haha yet another one suffering a bad case of healthcare socialism propaganda brainwash'ism.... aka Ignorance. Come over to australia sometime, "break a leg", litterally, and enjoy your hassle hassle, cost free experience.

RE: Useless...
By bobcpg on 4/19/2010 10:36:53 AM , Rating: 1
I'm thankful for the stability this nation provides that fosters innovation. Not to mention the $$$ donated by the "rich" people and "evil" corporations to US Universities so that this type of research can be done.

Its not so one sided as you might think. If anything its a start. At least we have the invention and now we can work on making it cheaper if needed.

If its really bad in the US feel free to move somewhere where its better. Perhaps one of the many nations that will potentially receive these units free, or can purchase them with the massive amounts of money the "evil" US people send as aid.

RE: Useless...
By bobcpg on 4/21/2010 5:56:44 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, reality hurts huh!

RE: Useless...
By ZachDontScare on 4/19/2010 3:00:30 PM , Rating: 2
quote: the USA except for rich people I guess. Can a person with type 1 diabetes get health insurance?

Um, yes.

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