Diabetes Patients May Get Better Results With Bionic Pancreas
June 16, 2014

Diabetes Patients May Get Better Results With Bionic Pancreas

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A team of Massachusetts researchers working on a bionic pancreas were able to show that their device could maintain blood glucose levels consistently within the normal range, with fewer dangerous lows or highs, according to a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The team said their device could make a massive difference in the lives of countless individuals coping with Type 1 diabetes. Conventional care for this kind of diabetes means patients must use fingerstick tests to track their blood glucose levels throughout the day and manually take insulin by injection as needed.

According to study author Dr. Steven Russell, an assistant professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, clinical tests of the bionic pancreas produces, "two results that almost never go together. Participants' average blood glucose went down while the incidents of low blood sugar also dropped.”

The researchers reported that the device resulted in 37 percent fewer interventions for hypoglycemia and more than twofold drop in the time in hypoglycemia in adult trial participants.

“The fear of hypoglycemia can limit attempts to bring the average blood sugar into the range that dramatically reduces the risk of long-term complications, so it was remarkable that we saw both of these results at once,” he added. Fewer cases of hypoglycemia on the bionic pancreas also lowered the need for carbohydrate doses to increase blood sugar.

To test their device, the researchers conducted two trials: an adolescent trail and an adult trial. In the adolescent trial, 32 volunteers, ages 12 to 20, at a Type 1 diabetes camp followed the same activity and meal schedule as other campers. The adult trial included 20 participants who lived at home and maintained their own care. While on the bionic pancreas, adult volunteers needed to stay within a three-square-mile section of downtown Boston, which made it possible for constant wireless monitoring of the blood sugar levels. Volunteers were accompanied by a study nurse around the clock and slept in a hotel, but were otherwise allowed to live a normal life.

"The performance of our system in both adults and adolescents exceeded our expectations under very challenging real-world conditions," said study author Ed Damiano, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University and the parent of a son with type 1 diabetes.

"The most practical difference would be not having to think about diabetes 24/7, not having to constantly make decisions about things that those of us without type 1 never have to think about,” Damiano continued. “Another real problem that would be relieved is the fear – fear of going to bed at night and not knowing if your blood sugar level will drop dangerously low while you sleep.”

"And another extremely frustrating aspect of diabetes that would be completely eliminated by this device is the enormous sense of failure when you stare at that glucose meter and, despite everything you do to control it, your blood sugar is not in or near the normal range," he continued. "But of course you didn't fail; the tools that are available to you failed. The bionic pancreas we are working toward would relieve that sense of failure and provide a bridge to the often-promised but still elusive cure for type 1 diabetes."