Each year, medical technology companies are working to make diabetes more hands-off, end the never-ending cycle of checking and monitoring, and streamline the glucose-delivery process.
They’re closer than ever with artificial pancreases, also known as automated insulin delivery systems.
These systems, which are worn like traditional insulin pumps, are designed to automate blood-sugar management by monitoring glucose levels continuously and providing insulin that can stabilize blood sugar levels as they’re needed.
All of this is managed by an algorithm, or computer model, that connects your insulin pump — the artificial pancreas — to a smartphone.
“It can detect what your glucose level is, and it has an insulin delivery device that can deliver subcutaneous insulin instantly,” Dr. Robert Courgi, an endocrinologist and hospitalist with Northwell Health in New York, told Healthline. “That smart technology, it can change and vary as needed, instead of giving you that one fixed dose constantly.”
The first “closed-loop” system of this kind was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2016.
It’s been available for more than a year, but newer versions are anticipated in the coming months and years.
These newer versions, said Dr. Mark D. DeBoer, associate professor of pediatrics in the pediatric endocrinology division at the University of Virginia, will hopefully deliver greater ease of use and satisfaction.
“What most children and adolescents are seeking in an artificial pancreas system is one that overall decreases the work that they put into their diabetes. The ideal system for patients with diabetes is to ‘set and forget,’ and we are not there yet,” DeBoer told Healthline.
“Patients still need to be aware of what their blood sugars are and what the system is doing, but we are hoping that more work and research in the field will keep moving toward wider use.”
It’s a marvel of medical science that took decades because of the complexities of how glucose delivery and monitoring work, added Dr. Gerald Bernstein, an endocrinologist and coordinator of the Friedman Diabetes Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
But even these advances have a long way to go before they truly replicate a human pancreas, he said.
“We got to the moon and have rocket ships that can go back and forth, all before we were able to create anything close to an artificial pancreas because of the complexity,” Bernstein Said. “Now we have to see if the algorithm will hold up over time.”