Scientists have managed to create an artificial pancreas leading to hope that the device could eventually eliminate the need for insulin and insulin pumps in type 1 diabetics. This is not the first such pump developed however it is the first device that is fully implantable.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops producing the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar ( glucose) levels. This can lead to extremely high or low levels of blood sugar, which in itself is dangerous but also leads to micro vascular complications in the long run such as problems with vision, cardiovascular and renal problems. At the moment people with diabetes have to measure their blood sugar levels regularly and calculate the dose of insulin needed, which they then have to inject themselves. There are also now pumps available that deliver the insulin automatically, but it still has a negative impact on their quality of life.
The new device, developed by Francis J. Doyle and colleagues from the University of California, Santa Barbara, can continuously measure the blood sugar levels and deliver the insulin when needed, thereby eliminating the need for finger prick testing and self injecting. When the researchers tested the device they found that it kept sugar levels at an optimum level 78% of the time, crucially with no hypoglycaemic ( low blood sugar) events. The device is fully implantable and uses an algorithm to calculate the does of insulin needed. This would in theory mean that there should be less complications due to the diabetes as the complications usually arise due to poor control of blood sugar levels.
The next step is for the researchers to test the device in vivo in animals, to see how it works in real life, but they are hopeful that the device might be ready for human use in the next 5 years. This would be a major advance in the treatment of Type 1 Diabetes.