With type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that produce the glucose-lowering hormone insulin. Without insulin to convert sugar into energy for cells, glucose levels build up in the bloodstream. For diabetes patients, this means constantly tracking blood sugar levels and taking daily doses of insulin. Researchers have been working on a fully implantable artificial pancreas that continuously measures a patient’s glucose level and delivers appropriate amounts of insulin as needed. And they’re getting ready to test the design in animals. The work was published in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research last month.
Sugar levels that are too high result in hyperglycemia, and over time this can lead to serious eye diseases and heart and kidney problems. To make up for the loss of insulin produced by the body, patients typically rely on daily injections or insulin pump therapy. But both methods still require calculating the proper dose, and there’s also a time lag between when insulin is needed and when it actually starts taking effect.
A team of University of California Santa Barbara researchers led by Francis Doyle have designed a method that makes monitoring glucose and delivering insulin automatic. And free of needles, too! Their algorithm senses blood sugar levels, then calculates the dosage and quickly delivers it from the implant. In previous trials for the algorithm, participants used a tablet to monitor and maintain glucose levels (pictured above). In the current design, UPI explains, a chip allows the algorithm to run an artificial pancreas without the tablet.
In computer tests that simulated the rise and fall of glucose with meals and long periods of sleep, their artificial pancreas was able to keep blood sugar levels within the proper range 78% of the time.
Next up: testing their design in animals to evaluate its in vivo performance. The team is also working on a special pediatric artificial pancreas. Children’s unpredictable eating habits, food preferences, and physical activity require extra vigilance.