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"Bionic Pancreas" Manages Blood Sugar Levels in Type 1 Diabetics


Credit: Flicker CC//Melissa J

Smartphone apps are useful for more than dating or ordering a taxi—they’re increasingly helping people manage their health, including monitoring blood pressure or sending reminders to take medications. Now, a device has incorporated smartphone app technology to potentially help millions of Americans better control Type 1 Diabetes.

The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and other outlets report that two small clinical studies performed by researchers at Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital show that a wearable “bionic pancreas”—which combines an iPhone, a glucose monitor and an automated insulin pump—successfully regulated blood sugar levels of 52 people with Type 1 Diabetes during a five-day study.

Unlike conventional insulin pumps, the device requires little manual management of blood sugar levels. Instead, it relies on a glucose sensor and a smartphone app algorithm to automatically determine the timing and dosage of insulin release. Diabetics can provide information about their upcoming meals, and the device then delivers the appropriate amount of hormone to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. The artificial pancreas also releases glucagon (which has the opposite effect of insulin) when blood glucose drops too low. The study found that patients who used the device had healthier blood sugar levels than they would using a standard pump.

The device has yet to be studied in a large-scale clinical trial. It’s also unknown whether the artificial pancreas will work for diabetics in everyday life, outside of a tightly controlled lab setting. Researchers also haven’t tested the technology on people with Type 2 Diabetes, a group that makes up about 90 to 95 percent of the approximately 26 million American adults with diabetes.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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