“Smart Pump” for Diabetes is Step Toward Artificial Pancreas

By Breanna Draxler | June 24, 2013 3:32 pm
insulin pump used to treat type 1 diabetes

Current insulin pump technology. Image courtesy of Hdc Photo/Shutterstock.

For those with type 1 diabetes, low blood sugar can translate to a lack of energy during the day. But if it occurs at night, when a person is sleeping, low blood sugar can lead to a coma, seizure, or even death. An artificial pancreas would not only eliminate the need for regular insulin shots during the day but also avoid dangerous episodes of nighttime hypoglycemia. A recent clinical trial put an early version of such a device to the test.

Researchers equipped 247 diabetic participants with sensors that constantly monitored their blood sugar levels. Half of the participants wore normal insulin pumps to supply a steady, low dose of insulin. The other half used the new “smart pumps,” which are programmed to shut off the insulin supply for two hours whenever a person’s blood-sugar fell to a certain level.

During the three-month trial, participants with smart pumps experienced a third fewer episodes of hypoglycemia than those with the regular pumps. And the number of cases where blood-sugar levels dropped low enough to need medical attention were non-existent in the smart pump group. Four people with the regular pump experienced such an episode.

The smart pump is already being produced by a Minneapolis-based company called Medtronic, and is available in European markets. It is currently under review by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States, according to CBS.

The smart pump’s automatic shut-off feature brings researchers closer to their goal of producing an artificial pancreas that could one day eliminate diabetics’ blood-sugar highs and lows by precisely tracking glucose levels and automatically delivering specific doses of insulin as needed. The results of the company-sponsored study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine over the weekend and presented Saturday at the American Diabetes Association conference in Chicago.

The artificial pancreas is mainly aimed at treating type 1 diabetes, which is most often found in children and makes up about 5 percent of the 26 million cases of diabetes in the United States. Still, the device’s ability to regulate insulin levels could prove helpful for the millions of people with type 2 as well.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • Nina Darguzis

    This is a great step in technology. As much as I cannot use the insulin pump due to complications, if they were to perfect and artificial pancreas I’d be lining up.

  • Felix Turner

    As a type-1 diabetic, I’m very excited for the prospects of insulin pumps automatically linked to BG monitors. However,the big problem with this tech is that it can easily kill you. If the monitor gets miscalibrated and incorrectly detects high BG (which is not uncommon with current BG monitors), it will keep pumping extra insulin, potentially causing hypoglycemia while you sleep. The current solution of a separate pump and monitor requires a manual step to actually pump the bolus, which removes this risk at the cost of being a lot more inconvenient. Presumably the new tech has some clever solution to this problem.

  • Andrew Cader

    Please can I have one……..am sick and tired of highs and lows.

  • http://www.libertynewspost.com/ Liberty Newspost

    I wonder when the Mafia, I mean the FDA, will approve the pump that is already being used in European Markets? I expect after the pharmaceutical companies come to some sort of “Agreement”

    • john

      A late reply to your comment but I really don’t think you have all the information needed to make such an assumption!

  • David Shapiro

    Smart insulin is coming soon. That could turn out to be a better alternative to this. One question I have about this is it says it turns off insulin for 2 hours. If it is smart, why did it ever get to a point where I needed to turn insulin off to 2 hours? Also, turning insulin off for 2 hours if I am low does not what we need. That does not address the onboard insulin–in that, the insulin already delivered that most likely caused the low in the first place. We need to wake, take glucose and get back to a normal level and try and fight off the onboard insulin that is already in the works. We are capable of suspending the insulin ourselves at this point for as little or much time as we need (2 hours might be too much). Again, I think the smart insulin is the way to go and see little benefit with this. Maybe the article does not explain as well the real features and advantages of the pump would be the only other possibility.

    • john

      This was only a trial for the device. I wrote an article on Diabetes for a local magazine here where I live and interviewed a specialist who was quite up to speed on the development of these smart pumps. The goal is to be able to read glucose levels and respond with insulin dosed to reflect the natural behaviour of a non-diabetic organ. Your question is valid. This article is for the general public and not nearly comprehensive as the studies. Most people would not even understand the technical details. My own father has been type one from childhood but right now he has cancer and in his weakened state and loss of weight, his pancreas still functions at a level such that insulin injections are not even necessary to keep his blood sugar at normal levels. It has been quite a shift from the last 68 years where he had to monitor and inject multiple times daily!
      You can find better and less dumbed down information about these machines on the net if you want better answers!

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