Artificial pancreas: the future is now

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Type 1 diabetics: listen up. The future of diabetes management is here. Advocates with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation say the artificial pancreas is on the brink of becoming a commercially available reality for patients.

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 14, I speak from experience when I say, sometimes, viewing an article on the latest 'diabetes breakthrough' can feel a bit, well -- anticlimactic; hurry up and wait. But forget the rumors and the headline hype -- those in-the-know say when it comes to diabetes -- the future is now.

Currently, managing type 1 diabetes is relentless. But what if control could take care of itself -- if most high and low blood sugar events could be prevented? That's the idea behind artificial pancreas systems. They are life changing and here today.

"Yeah we are actually about to go into phase 3 of the artificial pancreas trials, which is huge," says Jenni Jeffers, Development Coordinator for the Alabama Chapter of JDRF.

Jeffers explains since 2005 JDRF has been leading the way in the artificial pancreas project. This breakthrough in blood sugar management isn't actually an organ. It's a system that starts with familiar insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors -- but now, they can talk to each other -- dispensing insulin automatically using realtime data.

"We are not talking 4 or 5 years down the road here for this, there's no question about that, " Jeffers insists. "I think we're really close with the FDA on getting approval for this and I think we will probably see it within the next 18 months."

"Like drinking water from a fire hydrant."

Jim Kaplan has been involved on the Alabama JDRF board for 7 years. He served as an outreach chairman for 6 of those years and has most recently moved into a new role as 'research updater.' This all stemming from his teenage son's type 1 diabetes diagnosis 7 years ago.

"It's like drinking water from a fire hydrant," Kaplan says of the immediate and daunting life adjustments that type 1 families must make. Kaplan remembers the late Friday afternoon when he had to rush his young son to Vanderbilt Hospital -- the day everything changed.

"All the sudden it was like having a child all over again -- you're on the elevator coming home on Monday and they're telling you, 'your child has type 1 diabetes' - and your world changes.

Kaplan says the world is about to change again -- with the artificial pancreas leading the way.

"And until there's a cure, I can't tell you what that's going to do for a type 1 diabetic -- it's an 'aha' moment," Kaplan smiles.

In the midst of third phase human artificial pancreas trials, the FDA is working to overcome remaining safety and availability hurdles with insurance companies and mulling business models with suppliers.

Jim Kaplan says despite the work left to do, there's never been a more exciting time to join the mission of turning type1 into type none.

"Give it to me today," he says. "I'll take my risk knowing that 90% of the time my child is going to be fantastic. I'm not sure that there will be a cure in my lifetime but I know that within his lifetime there will be no more type 1 diabetes," Kaplan ensures.

Get involved

JDRF is the only global organization with a strategic plan to progressively remove the impact of T1D from people’s lives until it is no longer a threat to anyone.

Your tax-deductible gift will help JDRF create a world without T1D.

"People want to see where those dollars that they're contributing to all the walks, to the rides, to the galas -- they want to see where those dollars are going. 80 cents of every single dollar that is raised goes to research -- that's phenomenal," Kaplan notes.

More about type 1 diabetes

Diabetes (medically known as diabetes mellitus) is the name given to disorders in which the body has trouble regulating its blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels. There are two major types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a disorder of the body’s immune system — that is, its system for protecting itself from viruses, bacteria or any “foreign” substances. Type 1 diabetes diagnosed in adults over 30 may be Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA), sometimes known as Type 1.5 diabetes. LADA is often misdiagnosed as type 2 diabetes because of age; however people with LADA do not have insulin resistance like those with type 2. LADA is characterized by age, a lack of family history of type 2 diabetes, a gradual increase in insulin requirements, positive antibodies, and decreasing ability to make insulin as indicated by a low C-peptide. A fourth and very rare form of diabetes, called monogenic diabetes, is also sometimes mistaken for type 1 diabetes but typically strikes newborns.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys certain cells in the pancreas, an organ about the size of a hand that is located behind the lower part of the stomach. These cells — called beta cells — are contained, along with other types of cells, within small islands of endocrine cells called the pancreatic islets. Beta cells normally produce insulin, a hormone that helps the body move the glucose contained in food into cells throughout the body, which use it for energy. But when the beta cells are destroyed, no insulin can be produced, and the glucose stays in the blood instead, where it can cause serious damage to all the organ systems of the body.

For this reason, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin in order to stay alive. This means undergoing multiple injections daily, or having insulin delivered through an insulin pump, and testing their blood sugar by pricking their fingers for blood six or more times a day. People with diabetes must also carefully balance their food intake and their exercise to regulate their blood sugar levels, in an attempt to avoid hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) reactions, which can be life threatening.

The warning signs of type 1 diabetes include extreme thirst; frequent urination; drowsiness or lethargy; sugar in urine; sudden vision changes; increased appetite; sudden weight loss; fruity, sweet, or wine-like odor on breath; heavy, labored breathing; stupor; and unconsciousness.

Type 1 diabetes is generally diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults. Scientists do not yet know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes, but they believe that autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors are involved. (Source: JDRF)





  • Portia

    “until there is a cure’ — yeah right. there will never be a cure because they aren’t looking. instead, they are looking for ways to manage it more effectively while the sick people continue hurting. notice that it is an insulin pump (those are upward of 8,000$ not including supplies) that talks to a continuous glucose monitoring device (another 2,000$ not including supplies), and that’s just for those two devices alone. this is just another big market scheme made by pharmaceutical companies trying to again, profit off of people with life threatening diseases. I have been a type 1 diabetic for 25 years and I will not be using this. I have an insulin pump, i don’t want to wear 2 freaking devices sticking into me making me feel like a cyborg. the insulin pump is enough to hide, i don’t need anymore attention drawn to my body. do they really think diabetics just don’t care about that stuff? We want to live normal lives, not be constantly reminded that we are flawed and defective. forgive me for being such a pessimist here, but every time I see this kind of crap it makes me mad. Yea, great, another advancement for diabetes… except that it isn’t. it didn’t take a genius to come up with the idea to make them communicate. everyone who has a pump has been wanting something like that.. OUT OF THE SAME PORT though! we are already at risk for scar tissue all over our bodies from the constant injections of these insulin pumps, why would we want to add to that? yeah i get it, the whole “but it detects your lows and highs and fixes it automatically”… i am not relying on that. nope. have had too many episodes where my blood sugar shoots up because my insulin pump failed to deliver (oh a nd that has nothing to do with what i’m eating. if i don’t get insulin every hour my blood sugar will go berserk). ugh sorry for the rant. i really am but i just am tired of them giving publicity to this like it is a freaking cure because it’s not. and i know doctors who get payed by these companies are going to be shoving it down our throats. please, report on things like ‘man made stem cells reverse type 1 diabetes in mouse’. it’s more hopeful than this bullonkey.

    • Gena Hamilton

      I don’t think that this will help with the cancer treatment, but if the patient is on insulin due to pancreatic cancer this may be of assistance. From what I understand it will be an insulin pump delivery system, a glucose monitor and then a glucose delivery system working in conjunction with each other. So when you need insulin the pump gives it to you and when you need glucose (sugar) a seperate device will deliver that to you. Hope this helps answer your question

  • Gena Hamilton

    Thank you David for sharing this story. I share your T1 illness and cannot wait until I am free from the daily struggles of bg control. I’ve seen this story recently and I’m excited to see what the future holds!!! As an adult, I know it will help me, but more importantly it will give life and freedom to so many young children

  • Jacquelyn Gandy

    I was wondering if this could benefit someone who suffers from chronic pancreatitis and is a non drinker and always has been.

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