Artificial Pancreas: Game Changer for Diabetes Treatment


SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — It could be life-changing technology for type 1 diabetics, a condition where the pancreas makes little insulin, or none at all. Doctors are hailing the so-called “artificial pancreas” as a game changer for millions with the disease.

For Jamie Kurtzig, 13, and her mom Sara, checking her blood sugar level during the day is routine. They’ve been doing it since she was diagnosed with type one diabetes at just 19 months. The problem is at night if blood sugars drop, Jamie could easily have a seizure, or worse, fall into a coma.

“For ten years we just set alarms and get up, ya know every, usually every two to three hours to do a check to make sure that she’s in a safe range,” Sara told Ivanhoe.

But this device, just under Jamie’s shoulder is changing all that. Dubbed an artificial pancreas or closed-looped insulin delivery system, it checks glucose levels every five minutes and wirelessly alerts Jamie’s pump, which then deliveries the correct dose of insulin.

Jamie explained, “And so I can just go to bed, and wake up, and be in auto mode and perfect blood sugar.”

Jamie is part of a trial at Stanford, which helped prompt the FDA to approve the device. It’s being hailed as an historic step towards treating diabetes but doctors warn this is not a cure.

Bruce Buckingham, MD, Professor of Pediatrics (Endocrinology) at the Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital in California explained, “This is a car analogy: that you are still driving, putting on the gas, putting on the brakes, and making the turns, and it is not an autopilot car.”

Jamie will have to manage her diabetes her entire life, but at least for now, she and her family can get a good night’s sleep.

For pediatric diabetics, 75 percent of all seizures occur at night. Researchers are hoping the artificial pancreas will decrease those numbers dramatically. The system is not an option for most people with type 2 diabetes, the more common form of the disease.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Tana Castro, Field Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Rusty Reed, Videographer.

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BACKGROUND: There is a direct connection between diabetes and the pancreas. The pancreas helps to digest food, and if the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or glucose builds up in the bloodstream, it can leave cells without any energy. When glucose builds up in the bloodstream, it can result in hyperglycemia, which may cause symptoms such as nausea, shortness of breath, or thirst. Hypoglycemia is the result of low glucose and can produce shakiness, loss of consciousness, and dizziness. Both of these conditions can be life-altering to those who suffer from them.  Type-1 diabetes attacks the beta cells that produce insulin in your pancreas, and can ultimately leave the pancreas permanent damage.  In Type-2 diabetes, however, the pancreas can still produce insulin but not enough to fully function.


STANDARD TREATMENT:  To treat diabetes, one of the best things to do is to check blood sugar levels and make sure that they are at a goal that is set by the patients’ doctor. With Type-1 diabetes, since the pancreas no longer makes insulin, one needs to inject oneself with the proper dosage, or be assisted by use of a continuous pump.  It is important to not stop the pump in the middle of an insulin delivery, and one should not go longer than one to hours without insulin.  Living with the illness results in a continuous checkup of blood sugar levels, and daily dosages of injections to keep levels within the safe range.


NEW TECHNOLOGY:  An artificial pancreas can help those with Type-1 diabetes manage glucose levels.  The artificial pancreas automatically checks blood sugar levels and releases the correct amount of insulin when needed. The device works from a smart phone or tablet, and uses a computer program to direct it. There is only one type of artificial pancreas, and it is called the “hybrid system.”. The system includes a sensor attached to the body to measure glucose levels every five minutes, which automatically gives or withholds insulin via a catheter attached to the body. Because the system is hybrid, it is not fully automatic. This means the patient using it has to manually confirm insulin doses.  Researchers are currently looking into a fully-closed loop system to give correct insulin amounts without human input.


MORE FROM STANFORD CHILDREN’S: “The device is the MiniMed® 670G system by Medtronic– the first FDA approved hybrid closed loop system … The system is FDA approved for the treatment of people with type 1 diabetes ages 14 years and older. Jamie was part of the trial to test the system for use in children with diabetes ages 7-14, so she is in fact one of very few her age who has this system.”



Katie DeTrempe

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Bruce Buckingham, M.D.

Read the entire Q&A