'Game changer' device for Type 1 diabetes patients mimics pancreas

Diabetes researchers may have found the key to helping Type 1 diabetes patients live longer, active lives with a system that acts like an artificial pancreas.  

The new blood sugar management system developed by Medtronic for Type 1 diabetics has shown safe results in a just completed trial.

The peer-review research in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows participants in the in-home study showed no dangerous drops in blood sugar level, nor did they experience any significant high measurements.

“This is a game changer,” said Beth Olson, research program manager of the International Diabetes Center in St. Louis Park. 

The IDC led the trial investigation into the new hybrid closed loop technology by Medtronic. 

The new system consists of a continuous glucose monitor that is attached to the skin, and a separate smart insulin pump that delivers insulin through a small skin tube.  The pump contains a special algorithm that learns from the blood sugar readings received from the glucose monitor.  The pump then recognizes whether the blood sugar levels are rising or falling and automatically adjusts the insulin feed to maintain a near constant blood sugar level in the body.  It’s called a partial artificial pancreas because the patient still has to test their blood sugar before they eat and still program into the pump how many carbohydrates they are consuming.

For trial participant John Caldwell, the technology helped lower his long-term blood sugar level, or A1C, from an average of 7.5 to 8 down to 6.5.

“It’s really smoothed out my control in a way that I could just never do before,” said Caldwell.  “I’m spending a lot less time worrying about it and managing it.  I can just look at the pump and see what my blood sugar is at any time, and it pretty much takes care of the ongoing controlling of it.”

The technology could be of special importance to parents of children with Type 1 diabetes, who often have to get up in the middle of the night to check their children’s blood sugars to make sure they’re not low.  Lead investigator, Dr. Richard Bergenstal of the IDC said the study showed no episodes of severe hypoglycemia in patients.

“The data is compelling and shows that the system’s ability to automate insulin dosing 24 hours a day has the potential to impact patients’ lives in a very meaningful way, particularly at night when it’s most challenging to maintain target blood glucose levels,” said Dr. Bergenstal in a statement.

While the trial supports the safety of the Medtronic system, it does not yet have FDA approval.  Medtronic submitted a Pre-Market Application on the hybrid closed loop system to the FDA in June.