The pancreas is an organ that is responsible for producing important hormones such as insulin. Insulin is needed to keep blood sugar levels within normal range. Those suffering from diabetes know that a lack of insulin can lead to high blood sugar. Those suffering from type 1 diabetes know that insulin injections are critical for survival.
Medical technology is currently developing a completely new option for those suffering from type 1 diabetes mellitus and it involves the so-called “artificial pancreas”. Type 1 diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus type 1 is a form of diabetes that occurs when the autoimmune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
The artificial pancreas is a concept that started 20 years ago with the goal of automating the delivery of insulin for type 1 diabetics to normalize their blood sugar levels. The idea is that this is not a solution for diabetes but is meant to improve quality of life for diabetics. The Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) is the engineering core in this project responsible for the algorithm and design being tested in clinical trials.
This artificial pancreas is not a replica of the pancreas organ; instead it is an automated insulin delivery system designed to mimic a healthy person’s glucose function. This closed-loop system consists of an insulin pump, a glucose monitor placed under the skin, and advanced control algorithm software in a smartphone that provides the brains of the system. The pump will deliver the needed insulin based on a series of variables such as stress, sleep, meals consumed, physical activity, and metabolism.
The first of two trials planned as part of the new $12.7 million National Institutes of Health funded study will test the safety and effectiveness of the artificial pancreas in 240 patients with type 1 for six months. The second trial will follow 180 patients that completed the first study for an extra six months to test the advanced adaptive control algorithm developed by the Harvard team led by dean Francis J. Doyle III and Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard Elizabeth S. Armstrong.
Also involved in the study is the University of Virginia School of Medicine Center for Diabetes Technology, that is also developing the artificial pancreas system. The institutions that make up the International Diabetes Closed Loop Consortium that will be participating in the clinical trials include Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, Stanford University, the Mayo Clinic, University hospitals in France, Amsterdam, and Italy among others. With clinical trials already underway, there is finally hope for an optimal and easier way to deliver insulin that will soon be accessible to anyone with type 1 diabetes.