The treatment of type 1 diabetes could be changed forever by the invention and trial of artificial pancreas. Current treatment for type 1 diabetes is highly effective but is a relatively troublesome and unpleasant ordeal. Patients are required to regularly draw blood, check glucose levels and inject the appropriate amount of insulin.
Designed by Boris Kovatchev and his team at the University of Virginia in the United States, the artificial pancreas is medical innovation has the potential to change millions of lives for the better.
Type I diabetes occurs when the pancreas, which produces the hormone insulin that normally facilitates absorption of glucose from blood into the body, is attacked by an inappropriate immune system response. This attack causes the pancreas to become incapable of producing sufficient insulin that leads to a buildup of glucose in the blood, which if left untreated can overtime cause damage to the kidneys, nerves, eyes and blood vessels.
The central hub of the new ‘artificial pancreas’ system uses a platform called InControl that runs on a reconfigured smartphone. This handheld device is linked wirelessly to a blood sugar monitor, an insulin pump and a remote monitoring site. The blood sugar monitor takes the glucose levels in the blood every 5 minutes and delivers the readings to the InControl device. The device is controlled by algorithms and administers the correct amount of insulin through a fine needle without the patient having to spill even a drop of blood.
The algorithms are where the real innovation comes in. They are designed to second guess how much insulin is likely to be needed. It is not enough for the technology to simply react to blood levels at any particular moment in time, it must predict glucose spikes, preempt changes and adapt to an individual's insulin sensitivity. This is no mean feat. The human pancreas is able to make these calculations with ease, but to design something as capable as the pancreas is a difficult task indeed.