An Artificial Pancreas

A device that reads glucose levels and delivers insulin may be close at hand.

Today, people with diabetes have a range of technologies to help keep their blood sugar in check, including continuous monitors that can keep tabs on glucose levels throughout the day and insulin pumps that can deliver the drug. But the diabetic is still responsible for making executive decisions–when to test his blood or give himself a shot–and the system has plenty of room for human error. Now, however, researchers say that the first generations of an artificial pancreas, which would be able to make most dosing decisions without the wearer’s intervention, could be available within the next few years.

Type 1 diabetes develops when the islet cells of the human pancreas stop producing adequate amounts of insulin, leaving the body unable to regulate blood-sugar levels on its own. Left unchecked, glucose fluctuations over the long term can lead to nerve damage, blindness, stroke and heart attacks. Even among the most vigilant diabetics, large dips and surges in glucose levels are still common occurrences. “We have data on hand today that suggests that you could get much better diabetes outcomes with the computer taking the lead instead of the person with diabetes doing it all themselves,” says Aaron Kowalski, research director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Artificial Pancreas Project.

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