A big challenge for individuals with type 1 diabetes is having to continually check blood sugar levels and administer insulin throughout the day. A new device called the “bionic pancreas” would alleviate the need to both manually check glucose levels and administer insulin. A research team at the University of Cambridge, and another team at Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital are both developing bionic pancreases.
Roman Hovorka, Director of Research at the University of Cambridge has been developing the artificial pancreas with colleagues Professor David Dunger and Dr. Carlo Acerini. The artificial pancreas consists of a sensor that communicates with an algorithm to regulate blood sugar levels. The sensor is implanted in the abdomen and synchs wirelessly with an algorithm installed on a mobile device, like a cell phone or tablet. If the patient’s blood sugar rises, the algorithm alerts their insulin pump to administer the exact amount of required insulin. Because the sensor continually monitors glucose levels, individuals with type 1 diabetes can literally rest easy—the bionic pancreas alleviates the need to wake up at night and check blood sugar levels.
The research team tested the device on 33 adults and 25 children over a period of three months. The team compared the study participants’ use of both the bionic pancreas to sensors and pumps that aren’t connected to the algorithm. Adult participants stayed in the “ultrasafe” blood sugar target zone 68% of the time, compared to 57% with current systems on the market. Children only used the artificial pancreas at night and stayed in the target zone 64% of the time as opposed to 34% of the time with other systems. The research team is working with a medical device company to move forward with commercialization of the algorithm.
Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital are also working together on a bionic pancreas called the iLet, as part of their Bionic Pancreas Project. The iLet also uses an algorithm to monitor blood sugar levels and administer insulin, but differs from the device under development by Hovorka’s team because it doesn’t need to synch with a smart phone or laptop. A Dexcom CGM sensor and transmitter communicates with the iLet device that contains two pumping systems to administer insulin and glucagon. The iLet team says, “Until a cure is found, the goal of the Bionic Pancreas Project is to reduce the impact of diabetes for people who have to live with it.” Their goal is to bring the device to market in 2017.