Major breakthrough: Artificial pancreas successfully treats type 1 diabetes

It has been trailed in the UK and proven effective.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Illustration of the pancreas.jpg
Illustration of the pancreas.

Rasi Bhadramani/iStock

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that currently 23 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Now, an artificial pancreas also called a closed-loop system, may provide relief for people with type 1 diabetes, according to a post on BMJ published on Tuesday.

Mimicking a real pancreas

It functions by mimicking the processes of a real pancreas.

A glucose sensor is placed under the skin to automatically calculate, with an algorithm, how much insulin to deliver via a pump. This means people with type 1 diabetes no longer have to closely monitor levels of sugar in their blood manually and take daily injections.

They can also monitor readings on their smartphones through a system where they upload the number of carbohydrates estimated to be consumed during a meal.

The technology was first trailed last year by the U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS). It was fitted to hundreds of adults and children with type 1 diabetes in the country.

The trials found that the technology was more successful than any other devices currently available to manage the disease. It was then approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

But not all was perfect. NICE further called for the NHS to generate a more cost-effective price for the device. It now costs around £5,744 ($7,025).

This is significantly more expensive than it should be for the device to be considered an affordable use of NHS resources as its main purpose is to help the organization cut costs by reducing interventions for type 1 diabetes cases.

Mark Chapman, interim director of medical technology at NICE, said, "Some people living with type 1 diabetes struggle to manage their condition, even though they are doing everything asked of them by their diabetes team. This technology is the best intervention to help them control their diabetes, barring a cure.

"At a time when the number of people with diabetes is rising, we have to focus on what matters most to people who use NHS services by balancing recommending the best care with value for money."

Inventions to control diabetes

This is not the only invention meant to control diabetes. In June of 2022, scientists at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, devised of a self-sufficient push-button device that contains engineered human cells and that can be implanted directly under the skin. The implant was found to restore normal sugar levels in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes.

"It is a quantum leap for merging electronics with genetics and kick-off for real-world therapeutic applications," Martin Fussenegger, researcher and Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering, told IE in an interview at the time.

In August of 2022, MIT engineers and collaborators developed another artificial pancreas, a device that can prevent scar tissue caused by implantable devices that release insulin to the body. In a study of mice, they showed that when mechanical actuation was incorporated into a soft robotic device, the device remained functional for much longer than a typical drug-delivery implant by inflating and deflating for five minutes every 12 hours.

"We're using this type of motion to extend the lifetime and the efficacy of these implanted reservoirs that can deliver drugs like insulin, and we think this platform can be extended beyond this application," said at the time Ellen Roche, the Latham Family Career Development Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and a member of MIT's Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.

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