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Bionic Pancreas Shows Promise for Type 1 Diabetes

Device removes guesswork from insulin therapy, reduces low blood sugar episodes, study finds


Damiano said that, within 18 months, he hopes to have one integrated machine containing an insulin reservoir, a glucagon reservoir, a continuous glucose monitor receiver and the computer program. The device would also require the insertion of a continuous glucose monitor sensor, and two tiny tubes inserted under the skin every three days to deliver the hormones.

In the current study, the researchers tested the device in outpatient trials for 20 adults and 32 teenagers with type 1 diabetes. The teens were at a diabetes summer camp. Both trials included five days on the bionic pancreas and five days on usual management with an insulin pump.

In the adults, average daily blood sugar levels were 159 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) on their usual management. On the bionic pancreas, that dropped to 133 mg/dL. The amount of time spent with low blood sugar levels was nearly halved -- from just over 7 percent on usual care to about 4 percent on the bionic pancreas, according to the study.

For the campers, aged 12 to 20, their usual care routines gave them an average blood sugar reading of 157 mg/dL, while they had an average of 138 mg/dL on the bionic pancreas. Time spent with low blood sugar levels were slightly reduced in the campers. The trials were funded by the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Both Damiano and his co-author, Dr. Steven Russell from the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Unit in Boston, were especially pleased that the device worked on everyone.

"No one was left behind. That was really encouraging," said Russell.

"A cure is what we hope for, but this is a bridge until that happens. Although we're not totally normalizing blood sugar levels, everybody gets below what's predicted to be an A1C of 7. We could keep people safe and dramatically reduce the risk of complications," said Russell.

A1C is a long-term measure of blood sugar levels -- about two to three months. The American Diabetes Association A1C goal for most people is under 7 to avoid diabetes complications. However, because of the many variables involved in diabetes care, that's often difficult to consistently achieve.

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