Artificial Pancreas?

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It could lead to one of the biggest breakthroughs in medical history — or it could be just another flash in the news.

The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International (JDRF) announced earlier this month that it is forming a partnership with Animas Corporation, a builder of insulin pumps and blood glucose monitors, to create an insulin pump that works together with a continuous glucose monitor to prevent extremely high or low blood glucose levels. According to the JDRF’s press release, the immediate goal is to build an insulin pump that, like current pumps on the market, requires users to manually control the basal rate at which insulin is delivered as well manually deliver mealtime boluses of insulin. However, if the user’s blood glucose level dropped too low — as measured by the continuous glucose monitor — the insulin pump would stop delivering insulin for a set period of time or until blood glucose returns to a safe level. If the user’s blood glucose level got too high, the pump would deliver extra insulin to bring it down. Such a system, if it works as designed, could immediately eliminate the risk of dangerous hypoglycemia (something especially important for people with hypoglycemia unawareness) as well as diabetic ketoacidosis, which can result from extremely high blood glucose.

The JDRF will spend $8 million on this project over the next three years, with the goal of having a product ready for review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in about four years. But the JDRF hopes that this effort will yield technology that can be developed further, eventually leading to a device that can fully regulate blood glucose on its own — mimicking, essentially, the function of pancreatic beta cells. People with Type 1 diabetes have no functioning beta cells and produce no insulin; people with Type 2 diabetes often have reduced beta cell function.

What do you think — would you be interested in using an insulin pumping system that could protect against blood glucose extremes? Do you agree with the FDA that developing an artificial pancreas should be a “critical path,” or with the JDRF that an artificial pancreas would be a “bridge to a cure” for Type 1 diabetes? Given that the JDRF spent over $100 million on research last year, is $8 million enough for this project? Leave a comment below!

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