Artificial Pancreas May Revolutionize How We Treat Type-1 Diabetes

No more needles: Over 40 studies have shown promise for the artificial pancreas. sciencepics/Shutterstock

An artificial pancreas, capable of monitoring and automatically dispensing insulin into the bloodstream, has just proved itself to be a better treatment for people with Type 1 diabetes than conventional treatment.

The artificial pancreas consists of a small electronic device that sits outside the body and has tubes entering the blood. The closed-loop system calculates and pumps the amount of insulin required by the body, just like the pancreas does in people without diabetes. The person with the artificial pancreas doesn't have to do anything – no finger pricking, no injections, no worries.

A massive new meta-study of 41 randomized controlled trials involving over 1,000 people with Type 1 diabetes looked to see how the artificial “organ” performs compared to other types of insulin-based treatment. As reported in the British Medical Journal, the results are remarkably impressive. In a given 24 hours, people using the device spend 2 hours less time in a state of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and 20 minutes less in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), compared to those using other types of therapy.

Even the most determined people find Type 1 diabetes tricky to manage. The condition, where their immune system destroys their insulin-producing pancreatic cells, requires vigilant blood sugar measurements and regular daily insulin injections. Other technological improvements, such as continuous monitoring devices and pumps, have made it easier, yet they still have room for human error. The artificial pancreas, however, removes much of this burden.

“People with Type 1 diabetes will remain involved in management. But closed loop systems, as well as open loop systems with data acted on by the user, could reduce the burden,” Norman Waugh, professor of public health medicine and health technology assessment, explained in an editorial to the paper.

The artificial pancreas has shown its dazzling potential for now, but more work needs to be done before it's a widely available treatment. For the millions of people living with Type 1 diabetes, this news comes with optimism and caution.

“For policymakers, there are insufficient data for cost-effectiveness analysis," cautioned Professor Waugh.

"We need longer and larger trials, in both adults and children, to compare closed loop systems with self-management using continuous glucose monitoring."

“Closed loop systems have much to offer, but we need better evidence to convince policymakers faced with increasing demands and scarce resources.”

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