The Bionic Pancreas is coming soon. It’s the development of a drug delivery device that responds to glucose concentrations to automatically avoid both high and low blood glucose, a so-called artificial endocrine pancreas, has been a long-term goal of diabetes therapy. Although it is well known that people with diabetes do not make enough insulin, it is also true that their pancreas does not release glucagon, a blood glucose-raising hormone, in response to hypoglycemia. Previous artificial pancreas designs did not include the capability to administer glucagon.
Imagine waking up and glancing down at your smart pump. Your blood sugar is a perfect 100 mg. You decide to have pancakes for breakfast. You tap “Large Meal” on the screen and start eating. Your sugars rise up to 180 mg before coasting gently back down towards normal as you go through your morning. As you go out for a run, you marvel that it’s been a month since you had a very low blood sugar. What if this no longer required imagination? For many this would be a dream come true. According to Dr. Ed Damiano, it is happening today in the Beacon Hill Study of the Bionic Pancreas.
Damiano is a biomedical engineer by training and one of the father’s of the bionic pancreas. While attending the “Friends For Life Conference” in Orlando, Florida Damiano conveyed the amazing progress of the program over the last 10 years. This event, hosted by Children With Diabetes, is the largest gathering for people with type 1 diabetes in the world.
When Damiano started on this project, he promised his son, David, who has type 1 diabetes that he would have the project done by the time he goes to college. Damiano says that they are on track to submit this product for approval in 2016 and to get it approved before David goes to college in 2017. This is an ambitious schedule – that’s just 50 months away – but he believes it is possible.
Damiano goes on to explain the Bionic Pancreas by saying, “It’s a pumping system, a sensor, and an algorithm that makes a decision every 5 minutes to dose insulin or glucagon to raise or lower blood sugars.” The actual device would be a dual chamber smart pump connected to a continuous glucose sensor. It would then tell two Tandem insulin pumps to dose insulin (to lower blood sugar) or glucagon (to raise it).
Bionic Pancreas is a strange word, says Damiano, but accurate: “It’s an externally worn device that emulates biological function through mechanical means. It’s a bio-pancreas. It’s not a pretty thing to look at, but it the best we can do with the technology that is on the table right now. What we have is a really reliable and accurate continuous glucose meter device and a really reliable and accurate pumping system.”
Although this system is a major improvement over traditional diabetes treatments, there are still issues. This, of course, isn’t a cure but it’s the closest anyone has come to a cure. Many who have used continuous glucose meters, with their frequent inaccurate readings, wonder how this is all possible. Damiano shared data on the latest generation of Dexcom’s G4 continuous glucose sensor and concluded: ”We’ve come to the point now where we have accurate enough sensors to do the job. And we have the data to show that.”
Damiano and his team are a collaborative group from Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital working together to make automated blood glucose controls a reality. Anyone that is interested in participating in clinical trials for the Bionic Pancreas should follow http://www.bionicpancreas.org. Although the Beacon Hill Study is fully enrolled, they will be enrolling multiple new studies this fall. The FDA has been approving their new study designs in just 30 days, record-breaking time. Get ready the Bionic Pancreas is on the way.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)