The Bionic Pancreas May Aid Blood Sugar Control

Jack Barton | 2014-07-15 04:49:43

Individuals diagnosed with diabetes have to pay close attention to their blood sugar levels. Too high or too low blood sugar can lead to complications such as neuropathy and loss of consciousness. Therefore any technology that can consistently monitor blood glucose and pump hormones where necessary can significantly improve the management of the condition for those diagnosed.

When Edward Damiano of the Boston University Department of Biomedical Engineering found out his son had type 1 diabetes he decided to use his expertise in biomedical engineering to create a technology that will allow more effective and easier management of the condition. Over a decade of research and engineering later, with his son now approaching college, Damiano is testing his aptly named ‘bionic pancreas’.

Ok so the image in all of our heads of a crazy scientist inserting metal organs into individuals diagnosed with diabetes is a bit overstated. The technology is outside of the body, connected via the finger much like any conventional manual glucose monitoring kit however unlike manual devices the bionic pancreas constantly monitors blood glucose during over time and delivers insulin or glucagon (hormones that lower or raise blood sugar respectively) when a need is identified.

The need for consistent manual monitoring of blood glucose can be stressful for those diagnosed with diabetes. Many experience anxiety associated with potential consequences of misinterpreting readings and administering wrong amounts of hormones, especially in the early stages after diagnosis. This is also true for parents who may not have experienced the condition personal but find themselves caring for children with the condition. The ability to remove the need for manual administration of hormones and regular checking poses significant opportunity to improve management of the condition whilst taking the pressure of those currently responsible.

A small feasibility study was conducted in a controlled environment and demonstrated excellent initial results (Russell et al, 2012), currently testing is underway to apply the technology in living conditions with a larger cohort and we wait in anticipation to find out the results.

With prevalence of diabetes increasing year on year such a technology can benefit huge populations. I’m sure all readers will know someone who has been diagnosed with the condition, if not themselves, I personally have one family member with type 2 diabetes and several friends with type 1. I’ll try my best to keep everyone informed on the developments as studies progress.

Here’s hoping Damiano achieves positive results before his son goes to college.

Jack Barton (Researcher, Rescon Ltd)

Russell, S. J., El-Khatib, F. H., Nathan, D. M., Magyar, K. L., Jiang, J., & Damiano, E. R. (2012). Blood glucose control in type 1 diabetes with a bihormonal bionic endocrine pancreas. Diabetes Care, 35(11), 2148-2155.