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The Artificial Pancreas

Posted Aug 25 2010 11:00am

Artificial pancreas is being tested to provide an alternative to people suffering from diabetes and is designed to provide the same functions as healthy pancreas. Healthy pancreas produce the hormone insulin which is the key regulator of blood glucose levels in our bodies. The absence of this hormone causes the sugar level to rise drastically and leads to diabetes. Till now, insulin therapy was the only treatment available to diabetics; with this new technology, there is hope for a painless and permanent therapy for people suffering from diabetes.

The main objective of artificial pancreas will be to:

· Provide continuous monitoring of blood glucose level in the blood

· Reduce the external dependence of insulin

· Reduce the pain caused by manual testing

Glucose levels in the blood can vary according to external conditions, such as rate of absorption of insulin, carbohydrate intake during meals, and the amount of exercise. It is essential to deliver the right amount of insulin taking these factors into consideration. An overdose of insulin can result in hypoglycemia, which is one of the reasons for diabetes-related deaths. With this system, it will be much easier to continuously monitor the glucose levels during the night and automatically adjust the dose of insulin.

How it works

Artificial pancreas is a coupled system equipped with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and an insulin pump. The blood sugar monitor comprises of a thin tube which is inserted in the stomach area just below the skin. The aim is to monitor blood sugar levels at different times of the day and night and relay it to a connected insulin pump. The pump is equipped with a computer software program that calculates the amount of insulin that may be required to reduce the glucose to normal levels automatically and painlessly.

Another problem that diabetics have to deal with is hypoglycemia that results from dangerously low level of glucose in the blood. Thus, these studies have also tested combining the hormone glucagon, (which counteracts the effect of insulin), along with insulin as a safety check to maintain normal levels of glucose in the blood throughout the day.

Clinical Trial Reports

One of the latest and leading research works on artificial pancreas was conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and recently published in The Lancet. These trials tested the effectiveness and safety of the systems in adults and children suffering from Type 1 diabetes. The results showed that the blood sugars levels were normalized in the day and even during the night, which was not seen in patients taking manual insulin injections. This device was also able to reduce the rate of hypoglycemia commonly seen in these patients.

The initial phase of clinical testing involved testing this device overnight using blood monitoring and insulin delivery by a pump; the second phase tested the same, but after the patients consumed a large meal, and the third phase tested the efficiency of the system after the patients went through moderate exercise. The results obtained showed a significant improvement in blood sugar levels compared to patients undergoing manual insulin treatment.

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