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Artificial pancreas helps monitor blood glucose levels, automatically deliver insulin

Scientists at University of Virginia refining artificial pancreas

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Type 1 diabetes is managed with insulin administered by injection or a pump.

Now, researchers are developing what’s being called an artificial pancreas, designed to make monitoring blood glucose levels and delivering insulin a seamless process.

Justin Wood loves all things mechanical, especially cars. This time of year, Wood is under the hood doing winter maintenance. Maintenance is a word he’s lived with since age 13 when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

These days, Wood wears a continuous glucose monitor.

“The continuous glucose monitor is a sensor and transmitter that I put on my stomach or arms. It communicates with my smartphone and my pump,” Wood said.

The display shows Wood’s blood sugar in five-minute intervals, but the pump needs his intervention to deliver insulin.

But what if there was a way to close that loop? Scientists at the University of Virginia are refining an artificial pancreas. It’s not an implantable organ, but an external system that monitors and automatically delivers insulin.

“The current system has the sensor and the pump, which is about one-third of the size of a smartphone,” said Dr. Boris Kovatchev, director of the Center for Diabetes Technology at the University of Virginia.

“Rather than having two separate devices, they work together. There’s a connection,” said Dr. Sue Brown, an endocrinologist at the University of Virginia.

The UVA researchers developed the “brains” or the algorithm that drives the system which, they say, will improve blood sugar control and make the condition easier to manage.

“The idea of having the artificial pancreas just takes one responsibility, weight off our heads. Off our shoulders,” Wood said.

For Wood, that means less stress and more time with his son, Lukas, and greyhound, Auggie.

New results from a phase three trial of the artificial pancreas found the system was more effective than existing treatments at controlling glucose levels in people with Type 1 diabetes, especially during the overnight hours, which is most challenging for people living with the condition.