RPI Hopes to Create a Vital Artificial Pancreas Component

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York is working on a new approach to blood sugar monitoring that could open the door to an artificial pancreas. The plan is to develop an automated monitoring system so sophisticated that it can take into account the often great differences in blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity among people with type 1 diabetes.

According to Professor B. Wayne Bequette, who is leading RPI’s development of the monitoring system, the mathematical algorithms it uses were inspired by his research into managing chemical reactions during oil refining. He believes that the same algorithms might predict the direction of blood sugar levels, even given the great variations among type 1s. Such a monitoring capability would even be able to anticipate the need for more insulin as a user nears mealtime.

Short of a genetic or medical breakthrough that would cure type 1 diabetes, the next best hope for type 1s has been the creation of an artificial pancreas: a combination insulin pump and blood sugar monitor that acts automatically to maintain proper insulin levels. Perhaps the best thing about such a technology is that it would liberate type 1s from having to constantly monitor their insulin levels and attempt to estimate how much insulin they need to bolus.

Part of the technology for an artificial pancreas already exists: insulin pumps that can mete out a set quantity of insulin, and continuous glucose monitors that measure a person’s blood sugar levels in real time. But the success of that combination relies on alert users who interpret the readings from their CGMs and set their insulin pump levels accordingly.

Still lacking is a reliable automatic system wherein the monitor can “tell” the pump how much insulin to push through. That’s where the RPI research comes in. Once a “smart” monitoring system has been equipped with the sophisticated ability to adjust insulin levels to an individual’s needs, it will be a giant step toward creation of a true artificial pancreas.

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