What Is an Artificial Pancreas?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 30, 2021

If you're not sure exactly what your pancreas does, relax. You're not alone. It's an organ deep inside your belly, and most folks don't give it much thought. But it plays an important role in keeping your blood sugar levels under control.

For someone with type 1 diabetes, an artificial pancreas can make a world of difference in how they live their life.

The FDA has approved several versions of these, some of which are fully automated. They do most of the work that a "real" pancreas does.Using sensors, they can adjust your insulin dose automatically. You don't have to do anything. They consist of a close-knit team of parts that constantly monitors your blood sugar level and automatically release insulin when needed.

How Your 'Real' Pancreas Works

After you eat, your blood sugar rises. Your pancreas releases the hormone insulin to move sugar from your bloodstream to your cells, where it can be used for energy or get stored for later.

When your blood sugar level gets too low, your pancreas sends out a hormone called glucagon. This tells your liver to release stored sugar into your bloodstream.

Type 1 diabetes damages the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Since they can't make the hormone, everyone with the disease needs to inject themselves with insulin when their blood sugar gets too high. And the only way to know when to do that is to check your blood sugar many times during the day.

How the Artificial Pancreas Works

It acts a lot like your real pancreas, constantly checking your blood sugar level and releasing insulin when your blood sugar gets too high. It also releases a small trickle of insulin continuously.

You wear a sensor under your skin and a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) outside on your body. The CGM and an insulin pump, which you also wear on your body underneath your clothes, work together as a team to respond to changes in your blood sugar level.

The CGM uses the sensor to check your blood sugar level and then sends your blood sugar reading to the insulin infusion pump.

When your blood sugar is too high, the pump automatically delivers carefully measured doses of insulin into your body through a patch and a thin tube called a catheter.

As your blood sugar returns to your target level, the insulin dose stops.

The device adjusts as needed. Fully automated versions apply artificial intelligence and can predict where levels may be headed and react accordingly.

A smartphone app lets you and your doctor keep track of your blood sugar levels and insulin doses.

What Problems Can It Cause?

No serious side effects have been linked to the artificial pancreas. You might have some mild trouble like:

In general, the devices have done much to increase the users’ time in their target range and help them maintaine control of their glucose levels, especially postmeal and overnight.

WebMD Medical Reference


FDA: "FDA approves first automated insulin delivery device for type 1 diabetes," "What is the pancreas? What is an artificial pancreas device system?"

Medtronic: "MiniMed 670G."

PubMed Health: "How does the pancreas work?"

Yale: "Artificial pancreas tested in international clinical trials."

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