Artificial pancreas helps teens with type 1 diabetes monitor blood sugar automatically

A testing “artificial pancreas” that connects with a smartphone is studied to help teens with type 1 diabetes control their blood sugar. This tool can automatically deliver insulin, which may work better than using separate devices that have been already on the market, a study suggests.

artificial pancreas

A group of 12 diabetic teenagers was included to examine the effectiveness of the artificial pancreas, which is known as a closed-loop insulin delivery system. The result was then compared to other separate devices to see how well it worked when it’s used to monitor glucose and deliver insulin.

The result showed that the teens using the artificial pancreas had significantly lowered blood sugar level of 8.7 mmol/liter (about 157 mg/dl) on average, compared to 10.1 mmol/L (about 182 mg/dl) for those who used the separate devices.

In the U.S., patients are diagnosed to diabetes when their levels of blood sugar are at 126 mg/dl or higher. In this experiment, the safe level ranged from 3.9 mmol/L to 10 mmol/L.

The teens whose levels of glucose were within that safe target range 72% of the time when using the artificial pancreas, compared to 53% when using the separate products.

According to Dr. Roman Hovorka, director of research at the University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories in the U.K, the use of the artificial pancreas is not limited by age but by the ability to use the insulin pump and to monitor glucose continuously.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces little or even no insulin, which allows blood sugar and glucose to enter cells and produce energy. If it’s poorly controlled, diabetes can cause cardiovascular disease, kidney diseases and even death. People having type 1 diabetes usually have to measure their own blood sugar levels during the day and inject insulin to control it. But it’s dangerous at night as blood sugar changes can happen while they are sleeping, hence, a tool that helps automatically monitor blood sugar and deliver insulin is such a good idea.

To find out whether teens could safely use the artificial pancreas without closely watching, Hovorka and other researchers tried the device among a group of 15-year-old teens on average. In addition to the better disease monitoring found, the experiment also showed no severe side effects with the artificial pancreas. Moreover, the appearance of hypoglycemia, a dangerous condition of low blood sugar, was more rarely seen than in previous experiments, the authors note in the journal Diabetes Care.

The experiment is small and brief, therefore, to make the artificial pancreas approved for widespread use, more studies including more participants over much longer periods of time will be needed, the authors caution. This is also the first experiment studying round-the-clock home use of the artificial pancreas in teens with type 1 diabetes. The findings of this experiment also suggest that patients this age may be able to use the device, the authors note.

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