We are not there yet, but high tech mechanical pancreases are becoming more sophisticated. You might ask, isn’t an artificial pancreas basically a marriage of an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM)? What’s the difference anyway? The big difference is who makes the decisions. While CGMs and insulin pumps provide information about what is happening with your glucose levels, they don’t tell you what to do with it. The artificial pancreas has a built in brain containing algorithms developed by researchers that take the information coming from the CGM and based on the algorithm automatically make adjustments to the amount of insulin the pump injects.
So researchers conducted a study to see who or what is better at determining glucose control. Think of the chess game played by the IBM computer, Deep Blue, against the master chessman, Garry Kasparov, in 1997. The computer won. Now the result didn’t mean the computer was smarter than the man, but it did point out that given a wide variety of possible “moves” with a large enough database and the speed that comes with processing power that the computer was able to make more logical decisions more predictably over time.
And such was the result of the experiment conducted at the National Center for Childhood Diabetes, in Petah Tikva, Israel. The study was published in the Feb 28 2013 issue of Pediatric Diabetes. Fifty-six children with type 1 diabetes were assigned to either a sensor-augmented insulin pump or the MD-Logic artificial-pancreas system for one night and then the groups switched.
The major difference in results between the two devices was in the rates of nocturnal hypoglycemia. Only seven children experienced overnight lows in the artificial pancreas group compared to 22 children using the sensor-augmented insulin pump. In addition, the participants were able to achieve a reduction in overnight glucose levels of 36mg/dl while preventing wide swings from highs to lows. However, there were more false alarms in the artificial pancreas group.
Although not a cure, a mechanical device that could supply insulin doses reliably without user input would be a boon for most people with type 1 diabetes.