Bionic Pancreas Outperformed Insulin Pump

Bionic pancreas for type 1 diabetes provides constant blood sugar monitoring and insulin treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) People with type 1 diabetes have to vigilantly keep track of their blood sugar levels. A new piece of wearable technology, the bionic pancreas, could help streamline the daily routine of insulin injections and blood sugar testing.

The bionic pancreas measures blood sugar levels every five minutes and feeds the information to a smartphone app. That app then calculates the appropriate insulin dose, which is then delivered to the patient.

A new study found that the bionic pancreas was more effective at managing blood sugar than the more common insulin pump.

"Ask an endocrinologist about emerging ways to manage type 1 diabetes."

Steven Russell, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and the Diabetes Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, led this research.

Type 1 diabetes develops when the pancreas produces little or no insulin, the hormone that moves sugar from the blood and into cells where it’s converted into energy.

Common treatments include insulin injections, prescription medications and regular monitoring of blood sugar levels.

Dr. Russell and his colleagues wanted to test for five days and out of a clinical setting the impact of biotechnology, the bionic pancreas, that provides constant blood sugar level monitoring and releases insulin as needed.

The researchers looked at two study groups: 20 adults at least 21 years old and 32 adolescents between 12 and 21 years old. All of the participants had type 1 diabetes for at least one year.

The research team compared the blood sugar control achieved with the bionic pancreas against the control provided by an insulin pump, which provides the hormone based on pre-calculated instructions entered into the cellphone-sized device.

For the adult group using the bionic pancreas, the average blood sugar level over the five-day study period was 138 milligrams per deciliter and the average percentage of time with low blood sugar was 4.8 percent. With the insulin pump, those same readings were both higher — 159 milligrams per deciliter and 7.3 percent, respectively.

A healthy blood sugar level is between 70 milligrams per deciliter and 125 milligrams per deciliter, depending on whether the patient fasted ahead of the test.

A similar decrease with the bionic pancreas compared to the insulin pump was seen in the adolescent group. The measurements for average blood sugar were 138 milligrams per deciliter among those with the bionic pancreas, compared with 157 milligrams per deciliter among those with the insulin pump.

The average time spent with low blood sugar in the adolescent group was 6.1 percent for those with the bionic pancreas and 7.6 percent for those with the insulin pump.

The researchers concluded that the bionic pancreas outperformed the insulin pump in controlling blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes.

Study co-author Edward Damiano, PhD, of Boston University, developed the bionic pancreas for his son David, a high school freshman who has had diabetes since he was 11 months old.

Dr. Damiano told the New York Daily News, “The emotional response [of participants] was something we could never have anticipated. They embraced it and saw it as a complete game changer.”

Dr. Russell said the new device will “lift that burden” of constant blood sugar monitoring off of type 1 diabetes patients.

The team’s study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine and announced at the American Diabetes Association’s 2014 Scientific Sessions.

The research was funded by grants from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, and the Earle Charlton Fund for Innovative Research in Diabetes, among others.

Dr. Russell disclosed that he received consulting fees from the technology manufacturer as well as lecture fees and the use of loaned equipment from several private companies.

Other co-authors disclosed holding a patent for the automated blood sugar control system and other pending patents on related technology.

Review Date: 
June 18, 2014
Last Updated:
June 18, 2014