Artificial Pancreas: A Dream Comes True


Approximately, 400 million people dream of the day when they can finally live without daily insulin shots and the continuous need to monitor their blood sugar level. After decades of strenuous efforts by scientists and researchers to invent a cure that enables diabetics to lead a normal life, finally, their dream came true. On 28 September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) approved the first artificial pancreas produced by Medtronic company, named MiniMed 670G; hence, marking a milestone towards treating diabetes.

The pancreas of Type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin, so it is necessary to obtain it from outside the body; as a result, the artificial pancreas was mainly designed to help patients of that Type 1 diabetes who are 14 years of age or more. The artificial pancreas is the first device of its kind to combine both an insulin pump and a sensor that measures the sugar level in the blood; accordingly, it pumps insulin or stops it, maintaining the insulin level in the blood. However, the patient needs to insert the amount of carbs s/he would eat into the device in order to receive the correct insulin dose; that is why it is called a “Hybrid Closed Loop”, as the patient interferes in the device working mechanism.

The device imitates the real pancreas, as it contains a sensor that is placed under the patient's skin, measuring the sugar level every five minutes. The device sends the collected data to an external processor containing a program that performs a series of mathematical equations to indicate the needed insulin shot. Moreover, it sends this information to the insulin pump that the patient wears around his body; it pumps insulin inside the body through a catheter. The artificial pancreas differs from the insulin pump, as the latter is separated from the sensor; hence, the data cannot be transfered between them, which calls for its reset to produce certain quantities of insulin, unlike the artificial pancreas, inside of which all of this occurs automatically.

The device has proven successful in clinical trials that showed a noticeable decrease in complications that happen to diabetics on the long term, such as inflammation of the nerves, heart and kidney diseases, and retinopathy. No risky symptoms have been recorded similar to those that happen with the use of traditional methods, as needles or insulin pumps; these symptoms include blood sugar dropping or rising, and the production of ketone bodies. The side effects were mainly the appearance of redness or infection around the area connected to the catheter in which the insulin is pumped.

In 2018, Medtronic was able to acquire the FDA approval to use the artificial pancreas with those who are 7–14 years of age, so that children are able to safely use the device. This is considered a major step as it is difficult for children to depend on themselves in deciding or taking their insulin shots. However, it cannot be used with children under seven years of age or with those who take less than eight units of insulin as their daily dose; this is because the device's efficiency and safety has not yet been experimented in these cases.

Despite this remarkable leap in treating Type 1 diabetes, scientists are still researching to produce an artificial pancreas that works automatically without the user’s interference, and they assure to achieve this in the near future.



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