A unique take on an artificial pancreas system has been developed by a smart father whose son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2000.
As a parent, having your child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes can be a devastating experience. Whilst type 1 diabetes can be managed, it requires 24/7 commitment and allows very little room for mistakes. It can leave parents feeling powerless at times as short term complications such as severe hypos and ketoacidosis are an ever present threat, and particularly through childhood and adolescence.
Whilst many parents have to do their best to help their children manage their insulin doses, Ed Damiano is Associate Professor, in Biomedical Engineering at Boston University and used his engineering expertise together with his keen knowledge of his son’s type 1 diabetes to develop a novel ‘bionic pancreas’.
Whilst most artificial pancreas systems, currently in development, use a combination of continuous glucose monitoring sensors linked up to an insulin pump, this pump goes a step further by including a glucagon pump to help the body better respond to low blood glucose levels.
People with type 1 diabetes can produce their own glucagon, a hormone which raises blood sugar levels, but the trouble is that the body’s response to low blood glucose levels in type 1 diabetes is often impaired to at least some extent, meaning that blood glucose levels can become dangerously low before the body responds.
The pump goes even further by incorporating mobile technology. The system uses an iPhone 4S which connects wirelessly with a continuous glucose monitoring sensor that is inserted under the skin. The bionic pancreas includes an integrated app that allows users to enter information about meals they are having and calculates the amount of insulin needed.
Damiano and his accompanying research team have completed initial tests of the bionic pancreas. 20 adults and 32 adolescents tested the artificial pancreas system over five days. The adults stayed in a hotel and the teenagers at a summer camp and both groups were kept under medical supervision but otherwise allowed to go about regular daily activities.
When results were compared against regular insulin pump usage, the bionic pancreas halved the number of times participants needed to intervene to correct low blood glucose levels (0.8 times a day in the bionic pancreas group and 1.6 times a day in the conventional insulin pump group). The pump also performed well in balancing blood glucose levels following meals.
Further clinical trials will be needed as artificial pancreas devices are complicated systems which need to be thoroughly tested and evaluated before they can be marketed to the public. However, Ed Damiano is committed to carrying out further research to get the bionic pancreas ready before his so, who is now 15 years old, goes off to college.

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