Latest Advance in the Treatment of Diabetes: An Artificial Pancreas

An artificial pancreas could be a major advance in the treatment of diabetes.

July 9, 2009, 2:19 PM

July 9, 2009— -- To live with diabetes, to live like 14-year-old Sarah Carlow of Cheshire, Conn., is to live in a series of never-ending calculations.

"I test my blood sugar on average maybe ten or more times a day," she says. "I check it before breakfast, lunch and dinner. You have to check your blood sugars while you're playing sports. I also have to count carbohydrates."

Sarah must count the carbohydrates in every food or drink she consumes, adjusting how much insulin to give herself.

But recently, for a few precious days, Sarah was able to forgo all of that, as she tested an experimental artificial pancreas which researchers believe can help diabetes patients automatically monitor their insulin levels. Sarah is one of about 75 diabetes patients across the U.S. in clinical trials for the procedure.

"It's not only monitoring the blood sugars, but giving the appropriate amount of insulin every minute to control those sugars," said Dr. Stuart Weinzimer, of Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.

There are 23.6 million children and adults in the United States, or 7.8 percent of the population, who have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

An estimated 4.3 million Americans need to monitor their blood sugars and inject themselves with insulin at least several times a day. But could new technology do all that for them?

It is the logical next step, say doctors. Diabetic patients already have continuous sensors that monitor sugar levels in the body. And they have pumps that dispense insulin. Now, researchers have figured out how to link the two.

"The sensor, just under the skin, sends a signal to the transmitter. It goes to a so-called control box, which tells the pump how much insulin to release.

Sarah says she doesn't feel a thing while this occurs. "No. Not at all. It's an amazing thing," she said.

No matter how much Sarah exercised or how much she ate -- lunch, dinner, snacks -- the artificial pancreas made all the necessary adjustments.

Preliminary results suggest the artificial pancreas can control blood sugar much better than patients can do on their own.

And while there are still several more years of testing -- researchers continue to make the technology smaller and more precise -- Sarah now dreams about one day living with her own artificial pancreas.

She's "very eager ... It would be amazing. Not having the every day, every minute, every hour hassle of worrying about my blood sugars," she said.

"If this comes into play, I can live a life like I did before, which is awesome."

Artificial Pancreas Project: Participating Medical Centers

120 Wall StreetNew York, NY 10005Phone: 1-800-533-CURE (2873)Fax: (212) 785-9595E-mail: JDRF Artificial Pancreas Web

JDRF Funded Artificial Pancreas Consortium

Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes

Room G-313 Medical Center

300 Pasteur Drive, Stanford, CA 94305

Phone: (650) 723-5791

Fax: (650) 725-8375

Artificial Pancreas Center

Yale University School of MedicineYale PediatricsP.O. Box 208064New Haven, CT 06520(203) 785-4638 University School of Medicine

Sansum Diabetes Research Institute2219 Bath StreetSanta Barbara, CA 93105Phone: (805) 682-7638Fax: (805) 682-3332Email: Diabetes Research Institute

Barbara Davis Center for Childhood DiabetesBarbara Davis CenterP.O. Box 6511Aurora, CO 80045Phone: (303) 724-2323Fax: (303) 724-6779 Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes

Jaeb Center for Health Research15310 Amberly Drive, Suite 350Tampa, FL 33647Phone: (813) 975-8690 Fax: (813) 975-8761E-mail: Center for Health Research

University of Virginia Health SystemUVa Health System1215 Lee StreetCharlottesville, VA 22908 Phone: (434) 924-0211www.healthsystem.virginia.eduUniversity of Virginia Health System

The University of CambridgeDepartment of MedicineLevel 5, Addenbrooke's Hospital (Box 157)Hills RoadCambridge CB2 2QQPhone: +44 (0) 1223 336844Fax: +44 (0) 1223 336846E-mail: information@cambridge.org The University of Cambridge

Boston University College of Engineering44 Cummington StreetBoston, MA 02215Phone: (617)353-2805Fax: (617) 353-6766

JDRF Continuous Glucose Sensor Trial

Stanford School of MedicineDivision of Pediatric Endocrinology and DiabetesRoom G-313 Medical Center300 Pasteur Drive, Stanford, CA 94305Phone: (650) 723-5791Fax: (650) 725-8375 Artificial Pancreas Center

Yale University School of MedicineYale PediatricsP.O. Box 208064New Haven, CT 06520Phone: (203) 785-4638 University School of Medicine

University of Washington Diabetes Research & Endocrinology CenterBox 358285Seattle, WA 98109Phone: 206 764-2688Fax: 206 764-2693E-mail: of Washington

Kaiser Permanente Southern California 100 S. Los Robles, 2nd FloorPasadena, CA 91101Phone: N/AFax: N/AE-mail: N/A Permanente Southern California

University of ColoradoBarbara Davis CenterP.O. Box 6511Aurora, CO 80045Phone: (303) 724-2323Fax: (303) 724-6779 Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes

University of Iowa University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics200 Hawkins DriveIowa City, Iowa 52242Phone: (800) 777-8442 of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

Nemours Children's Clinic – JacksonvilleP.O. Box 5720Jacksonville, FL 32247Phone: (904) 390-3600 Fax: (904) 390-3699 Nemours Children's Clinic

Atlanta Diabetes Association100 Edgewood Ave NE # 1004Atlanta, GA 30303Phone: (404) 527-7150E-mail: Atlanta Diabetes Association

Joslin Diabetes CenterOne Joslin PlaceBoston, MA 02215Phone: (800) JOSLIN-1 E-mail: N/A Joslin Diabetes

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