Diabetes treatment is getting better every day. Scientists may be just a few years away from making an artificial pancreas that can safely detect and adjust blood sugar (glucose) levels. In the meantime, new medications and insulin devices can make living with diabetes easier and safer now.
"We're getting more and more options," says Michael German, MD, clinical director of the Diabetes Center at the University of California, San Francisco. "That's good because no two people with diabetes are the same. It helps us get the right medicine for each person."
These treatments are or will soon be available in the U.S.
Afrezza. This insulin inhaler for adults with type 1 and type 2 diabetes hit the market in February 2015. You use it at the beginning of a meal for a boost of short-acting insulin. Unlike an older inhaler, which was the size of a can of shaving cream, Afrezza is easier to use and not as clunky to carry around. "It's quite small – a little bigger than a whistle," says Sethu K. Reddy, MD, chief of adult diabetes at Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School in Boston. It's probably not for you if you smoke or have a lung condition like asthma or emphysema.
Medtronic MiniMed 640G. This combined insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor is a step toward the artificial pancreas. It automatically stops pumping insulin when your blood sugar levels are trending down and starts again when they're back up. "Hypoglycemia [low blood sugar] is a real problem, particularly for people with type 1 diabetes," German says. It could be especially useful for people who have hypoglycemia but feel no symptoms. The device isn’t available in the U.S. yet, but it may come to the FDA for approval soon.
Lucentis. Doctors already use this drug to treat the eye disease macular edema in people who don't have diabetes. But in February 2015, the FDA made it the first eye medication for diabetic retinopathy, a serious eye problem linked to diabetes and a leading cause of blindness among U.S. adults.