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Diabetes Health Center

Artificial Pancreas on the Horizon

An artificial pancreas could revolutionize the treatment of diabetes, and it may only be a few years away.
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Measuring Blood Sugar Levels

About two dozen companies and academic labs are developing glucose sensors, Joseph says. Some are blood glucose sensors, others are tissue fluid glucose sensors; some are placed under the skin by the patient, others are implanted long-term in the body.

While glucose sensors have improved significantly over the past few years, they are still the limiting factor in making the artificial pancreas, he says.

Steve Lane, PhD, acting program leader of the Medical Technologies Program at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, agrees.

"Almost certainly the goal of production of an artificial pancreas will be achieved," says Lane, whose department worked on a prototype of the artificial pancreas in partnership with MiniMed. "But there are obstacles to be overcome, the major one being glucose sensing. To date, no one has developed a foolproof way of sensing glucose."

Animas Corp. is developing an implantable optical glucose sensor. In animal and preliminary human studies, the device accurately measured blood sugar levels in the blood using infrared optics.

"A miniature sensor head is placed around a blood vessel, and a light source is focused through the blood to a detector," says Joseph. "The absorption of light at specific infrared wavelengths determines the concentration of sugar in the blood."

Further along in development are Medtronic MiniMed's short-term and long-term implantable glucose sensors, designed to continually measure the level of sugar in the tissue fluid or blood.

First Artificial Pancreas Tested

In France, Renard is leading the first clinical trial of an artificial pancreas -- a fully automated system that combines Medtronic MiniMed's long-term glucose sensor and its implantable insulin pump.

In a minor surgical procedure, the implantable sensor is inserted into a neck vein leading to the heart. The sensor is connected, via an electrical-type wire under the skin, to the implantable insulin pump: As blood sugar levels fluctuate, a signal tells the pump how much insulin to deliver.

"The patient doesn't have to do anything," Renard says. "It's all automatic. Even if you're eating a high-carb meal, the sensor will give the appropriate signal to deliver more insulin."

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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