Study Shows Promise for Artificial Pancreas

Insulin pump maker Animas has taken another step toward perfecting (and hopefully putting on sale) the first artificial pancreas. The company doesn’t call it anything that clear-cut, instead referring to the device as “a closed-loop insulin delivery system.”

Whatever you call it, the system is based on a simple concept. What if you could make your insulin pump talk to your continuous blood glucose monitor? As your blood sugar rose or fell, the pump would supply more or less insulin as needed.

In real life, of course, much more work and study is required. That’s what Animas is doing-specifically studying the two devices working in concert with an algorithm that helps predict where the patient’s blood sugar is headed. And the news there is good.

The second phases of a human feasibility trial-focusing on how the system worked overnight-found that it was effective. The 20 people testing the system had blood sugars that averaged between 70 mg/dL and 180 mg/dL for 90 percent of those nighttime hours. Less than half of those trial participants had blood sugars that dipped below 70.

“Avoiding hypoglycemia during the overnight period is a primary concern for people with diabetes, so maintaining safe glucose levels during this time frame is crucial in helping to not only achieve better control, but also helps ease worry throughout the night,” said Ramakrishna Venugopalan, Animas’s director of research and development. “We are encouraged by the results of this overnight study, and we are excited to be one step closer to bringing this technology to patients.”

The results were presented last month at an American Diabetes Association meeting in Chicago. Others involved in the study were the University of California, Santa Barbara; Sansum Diabetes Research Institute; and the Center for Diabetes Technology at the University of Virginia.

The road to this point has already taken a couple of years to travel. Animas began work on the project back in 2010, and received the okay from the Food and Drug Administration to start testing in 2011. The device remains in development, and much work and study clearly remains to be done.

That being said, the artificial pancreas looks like one of the more promising treatments for type 1 diabetics currently under development. The technology to make it work-insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors-already exists. And as shown in this early study, the algorithm linking them together shows promise, if not perfection.

As always, stay tuned.


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