Artificial Pancreas on the Horizon
An artificial pancreas could revolutionize the treatment of diabetes, and it may only be a few years away.
Insulin Pump a Step Forward continued...
Made by Medtronic MiniMed of Northridge, Calif., the hockey
puck-sized device is implanted under the skin of the abdomen, from where it
delivers insulin to the body, "just like the real pancreas," he
Lori Hahn, a 41-year-old Californian who has had diabetes for
more than a decade, says the implantable pump has changed her life. "Before
the pump, my life was a roller coaster, both blood sugar-wise and
emotionally," says Hahn, who is participating in a U.S. clinical trial.
"I felt out of control and had to focus a lot of my time on controlling my
"With the implantable pump, I can forget I am a
diabetic," says Hahn, a working wife and mother of three active
The pump, which uses specially formulated insulin, is refilled
every two to three months. It delivers insulin in short bursts throughout the
day, similar to a pancreas. It is also programmed to deliver higher amounts of
insulin for mealtimes. Before a meal or snack, a push of a button on a
pager-sized personal pump communicator tells the pump to dispense a dose of
Smart System a Major Milestone
Other research is focusing on improving communication between
the glucose sensor and the external insulin pump. According to Joseph, a major
milestone was reached this summer when the FDA approved one of the first smart
systems that allows the two systems to communicate via a wireless
Such systems take a lot of the guesswork out of insulin dosing,
Traditionally, patients had to prick their fingers and place
the blood on a strip to get a blood sugar reading, estimate how many grams of
carbohydrates they planned to eat, and mentally calculate how much insulin they
needed. The system left much room for error, with the wrong calculation
potentially leading to dangerously high or low blood sugar levels.
With the newly approved Paradigm system, which combines the
Medtronic MiniMed insulin pump and a glucose monitor from Becton Dickinson,
patients still prick their fingers to measure their blood sugar levels. But the
pager-sized glucose monitor transmits the information straight to the insulin
pump. The insulin pump then calculates the amount of insulin required for the
current blood sugar. By having the pump calculate the dose required, you could
prevent errors that sometimes result when patients input this data manually, he
"It's up to the patient to decide if the suggested amount
is correct and push a button to deliver the recommended dose," Joseph says.
"It's not an artificial pancreas as it's not fully automated. But it's a
major advance of convenience and has the potential to improve blood sugar
control in the clinical setting."