New- Bionics for Diabetes?

Scientists studying remedies for type I diabetes have a new solution in the works- the ‘bionic’ pancreas. Under normal conditions, the pancreas regulates the body’s sugar (glucose) balance through the production of the hormones insulin and glucagon (among others). Insulin release signals the body’s cells to absorb glucose, reducing blood sugar. When blood sugar levels get too low, glucagon works in the opposite direction to trigger the release of glucose from internal stores into the bloodstream. In type I diabetes, insufficient insulin causes low blood sugar, which left unchecked can lead to several complications including rapid heartbeat, confusion, sweating and sleepiness.

Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School created a wearable, automated or ‘bionic’ pancreas that secretes insulin and glucagon in a carefully regulated manner. Adult and adolescent glucose levels were tracked using a standard insulin pump then monitored while on the bionic pump. The bionic pancreas improved mean glycemic levels, with less frequent hypoglycemic episodes, among both adults and adolescents with type 1 diabetes mellitus.

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Russell, S. et al. Outpatient Glycemic Control with a Bionic Pancreas in Type 1 Diabetes. N Engl J Med 2014; 371:313-325.