A Man-Made Organ

Artificial pancreas for type 1 diabetics checks blood sugar, pumps insulin

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) What if doctors could make a new organ to replace a broken one? Well, it seems they can. Scientists have built a pancreas that will help people with type 1 diabetes.

The man-made pancreas keeps track of blood sugar levels in type 1 diabetics and gives them insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar) when their body needs it. With this artificial pancreas, patients will have less responsibility to check their blood sugar throughout the day.

"Diabetics; ask your doctor about man-made pancreas."

When someone has type 1 diabetes, their pancreas makes little to no insulin - a hormone that is needed to keep a person's blood sugar at healthy levels. Because of this, patients with type 1 diabetes need insulin injections multiple times throughout the day in order to avoid dangerous blood sugar levels.

It can be very difficult for patients to keep track of their blood sugar and to know how much insulin they need. This is one of the main reasons why Professor B. Wayne Bequette, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, set out to create this artificial pancreas.

Every patient with type 1 diabetes has a different reaction to insulin and the meals they eat, says Baquette. Their reactions will be different depending on the time of day, type of meal, amount of stress, and amount of exercise. For this reason, Baquette states, a man-made pancreas has to be safe and reliable, even in the face of patients' different reactions.

With support from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, Bequette and colleagues created a tool that is both an insulin pump and a blood sugar monitor.

The device - which diabetics would have to wear at all times - monitors blood sugar through a needle stuck just under the skin. If the device senses a patient's blood sugar getting too high, it will automatically start pumping insulin. If it senses that blood sugar is low, it will stop pumping insulin.

The latest version of the man-made pancreas lets patients enter how much carbohydrates they are consuming. According to Bequette, this will make the device more accurate and reliable. Carbohydrate information will also give the device an ability to predict a patient's need for insulin. However, it will still work if a patient forgets to put in that information.

At the moment, the man-made pancreas is going through clinical trials in cooperation with the FDA. If approved, the device could make life much easier for the 30,000 American children and adults who suffer from type 1 diabetes. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 7, 2011
Last Updated:
June 7, 2011