The Bionic Pancreas

The Bionic Pancreas

Researchers report that the bionic pancreas implements a glucose monitor, an insulin pump and a smart phone to control blood sugar levels. Studies show that is has helped more than two dozen diabetics to live without the hassles that come with having diabetes such as having to prick their fingers for testing several times a day.

The bionic pancreas, which was developed by a team of researchers from Boston University/Massachusetts General Hospital includes a smartphone that is hardwired to a glucose monitor that is constantly detecting blood sugar levels and two pumps that delivers doses of insulin or glucagon every five minutes.

One researcher stated, “It is like a dream for a diabetic. It takes away the responsibility. It takes away the high blood sugar and the low blood sugar. It prevents damage to the body and it makes you feel better all the time.”



According to what the researchers of this study released to the American Diabetes Association, the bionic pancreas system controlled blood sugar levels better than without it for patients suffering from diabetes.

PhD, of the BU Department of Biomedical Engineering, principal investigator of the project Edward Damiano of Boston University, who worker on the project said, “I was astonished at how well it worked in a real-world setting. In both of these studies this device far exceeded our expectations in terms of its ability to regulate glucose, prevent hypoglycemia and automatically adapt to the very different needs of adults — some of whom were very insulin-sensitive — and adolescents, who typically need higher insulin doses.”

He added. “There’s no current standard-of-care therapy that could match the results we saw.”

For people who have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (also known as juvenile diabetes) this new study is shining a silver lining onto their normal lives, giving them something to be very happy about.

Eighth grader, Christopher Herndon, didn’t want to give up his bionic pancreas last August after testing it at a special summer camp for kids with diabetes. According to NBC News, Herndon said, “When I wasn’t wearing it I had to sit out a lot of activities because my blood sugar was low. It was frustrating.” When talking about the new device, he added, “My blood sugar never got so low that I had to sit anything out.”

For Christopher and his mother Kristina, it would mean a good night’s sleep. “My mom won’t have to worry at night,” Herndon said. “She won’t have to check my blood.

Life at camp for Herndon consisted of daily blood sugar level checks, even though the bionic pancreas made them unnecessary. “At camp, we start the day out checking our blood sugar after morning wake-up,” Herndon said. “The counselors give us menus; we count our carbs, add them up and then take insulin shots or set our pumps to deliver a bolus of insulin.” Only then do they eat.

Five percent of 29 million Americans who have been diagnosed with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes. Diabetes as a whole means that the body cannot manage blood sugar properly. Type 1 diabetes is more extreme than Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that is caused when the body destroys the pancreatic cells that produce hormones like glucagon and insulin, which controls blood sugar. When the body receives to high amounts of glucose, it begins to fail causing heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and blindness. In many cases, diabetic patients lose their feet, legs or toes due to a necessary amputation. Alternatively, if patient’s levels drop down to low, patients can pass out or even die.

Dr. Steven Russell of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who’s been working with Damiano and others on this project for years said, It is just fiendishly difficult to control the blood glucose as well as we know it needs to be. You are constantly at risk of low blood sugar, which can be acutely dangerous. It is hard for people to appreciate how hard this actually is.”

The research who found the bionic pancreas has been implementing studies on artificial pancreas for years, dating back to 2008. The bionic pancreas gives relief to diabetic patients who have had to monitor their blood sugar levels on a daily basis through the finger pricking method. This system is designed to make blood sugar level checking through finger pricking a thing of the past. As though it is not already a desirable product for diabetic patients, it also has the unique ability to deliver not only the hormone insulin but also the hormone called glucagon, which brings blood sugar back up, once it has dropped.

Due the smartphone, this system became wearable for patients since most people have a smartphone that they use on a daily basis. Damiano noted, “What made the wearable, bionic device possible was the invention of the smartphone. It was specifically the iPhone 4, with a low-energy Bluetooth signal that could be used to help the various components of the device communicate. The iPhone is a perfect platform. We could not have done this without (Apple co-founder) Steve Jobs. Smart phones are powerful computers that people can carry with them — perfect for coordinating the components of the artificial pancreas.”

Damiano concluded, “The most practical difference would be not having to think about diabetes 24/7, not having to constantly make decisions about things that those of us without type 1 never have to think about. Another real problem that would be relieved is the fear — fear of going to bed at night and not knowing if your blood sugar level will drop dangerously low while you sleep. Even our study participants, who controlled their blood sugars significantly better than national averages on their usual care, ran high levels overnight but still had significant episodes of hypoglycemia. And another extremely frustrating aspect of diabetes that would be completely eliminated by this device is the enormous sense of failure when you stare at that glucose meter and, despite everything you do to control it, your blood sugar is not in or near the normal range,” he continues. “But of course you didn’t fail; the tools that are available to you failed. The bionic pancreas we are working toward would relieve that sense of failure and provide a bridge to the often-promised but still elusive cure for type 1 diabetes.”