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Bionic Pancreas can Help Type-1 Diabetes Patients to Control Blood Sugar Levels

Jun 16, 2014 02:47 AM EDT
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Bionic pancreas can help people monitor diabetes and control blood glucose levels, researchers said.

The bihormonal bionic device is designed by scientists at the Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital to help type-1 diabetes patients to control blood sugar levels.

Just like a home thermostat that monitors temperature - healthy pancreas regulates blood glucose levels and releases hormones to control the amount of sugar in the blood. However, in people with diabetes type-1, the pancreas don't function properly, which results in dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Currently, people with this condition need to use an external device to check the levels of blood sugar multiple times in a day and then use insulin injections to control the sugar level. The latest device reduces patients' dependence on glucose pumps and fingerstick tests.

"The bionic pancreas system reduced the average blood glucose to levels that have been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of diabetic complications," said Steven Russell, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, co-author of the study, according to a news release. "This is tremendously difficult with currently available technology, and so most people with diabetes are unable to achieve these levels."

The bionic pancreas has five parts: two pumps attached to the abdomen, a glucose monitor, a small wire inserted under the skin and a cell phone-sized wireless monitor, Bloomberg reported.

The device releases not just insulin - the hormone that reduces sugar levels - but also another hormone called glucagon that raises the concentration of glucose in the blood.

Researchers tested the efficacy of the bionic pancreas in 52 people. Twenty adults used the device combo in Boston while the other 32 used it at a camp for children with diabetes type-1. For five days, participants used the manual pump to deliver insulin. All the participants were closely monitored during the tests.

Researchers found that people wearing the new device reported 37 percent lesser interventions for low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) than when they used the conventional method to monitor glucose levels. Both groups had better blood sugar control when they used the bionic pancreas, especially at night.

"The performance of our system in both adults and adolescents exceeded our expectations under very challenging real-world conditions," said Ed Damiano, Ph.D., the paper's senior author, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University. Damiano's son has type-1 diabetes.

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