A new artificial pancreas system is more effective at controlling blood sugar for those with Type 1 Diabetes than existing treatments and could mean an end to finger-pricking for Type 1 patients who use the device, according to a study spearheaded by University of Virginia researchers.
The device, powered by an algorithm developed at UVa, automatically monitors blood sugar and releases insulin. Researchers studied the system in a randomized trial that included 168 people from around the country and lasted six months. Their results were released Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The artificial pancreas system, also known as closed-loop control, is made up of an app and an implanted insulin pump; they calculate proper levels of blood sugar and deliver insulin automatically. The system means that people with Type 1 Diabetes don’t have to prick their fingers to measure their blood sugar or inject themselves daily with insulin. Type 1 Diabetes is a condition that means a person’s pancreas produces little to no insulin.
“It automates insulin delivery,” said Boris Kovatchev, director of UVa’s Center for Diabetes Technology. “That’s the major feature [of the system].”
Sue Brown, an endocrinologist at UVa, said researchers found the system worked effectively overnight. When participants woke up after beginning use, their blood sugar was in the target range 90% of the time.
Overall, Brown said the system helped participants keep their blood sugar within a target range better than the control group, which used an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor.
“That can be challenging to do for individuals with Type 1 Diabetes,” Brown said of controlling blood sugar. “... [The system] will ease that daily burden of constantly monitoring blood sugar.”
Brown said the artificial pancreas combines the pump and monitor and make them talk to each other.
However, those who have the device will still need to interact with it, watch their meals and deliver an insulin injection before a meal.
Approximately 30 million Americans suffer from various forms of diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only about 5% of people with diabetes have Type 1, which is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction. Currently, no one knows how to prevent or cure Type 1 diabetes.
UVa researchers developed the algorithm that Brown said is the “brains behind” the artificial pancreas, while a private company created the pump and monitor. That algorithm monitors glucose levels, projects future levels and then adjusts the amount of insulin released.
Tandem Diabetes Care, a company that is taking the device to market, has submitted the results to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provided funded for the study. Kovatchev also thanked UVa for its support in creating the infrastructure that made the research possible.