Researchers working on an artificial pancreas believe they are just a few years away from a nearly carefree way for people with diabetes to monitor blood and inject insulin as needed. They believe they can link two current technologies — continuous glucose monitoring and insulin pumps — into a seamless package.
Such a mechanical pancreas could greatly reduce the need for fingersticks and injections of insulin that diabetics must now endure several times a day.
"I think we are on the brink of a first-generation artificial pancreas," said Dr. Roman Hovorka of Britain’s University of Cambridge, who is testing some experimental devices with components by Abbott Laboratories and Medtronic, the No. 1 maker of insulin pumps and continuous monitors.
Hovorka’s team has been testing devices in patients with type-1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease caused when the body mistakenly destroys the insulin-making cells in the pancreas.
A continuous glucose sensor is implanted under the skin, and transmits blood sugar readings to a monitor. A computer calculates the right dose of insulin, which is delivered by an insulin pump — something many patients already wear.
His team is ready to send some patients home with the device, but has to work out the logistics of keeping a nurse full-time in each volunteer’s home, just in case.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulators are working closely with the researchers to ensure they design studies in a way that can lead to quick review, said Dr. Aaron Kowalski of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which funds many of the artificial pancreas study teams.
Presented at the National Institutes of Health, Aug 2008
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MJA 18 August 2008; 189 (4): 198-202© The Medical Journal of Australia 2008