The Artificial Pancreas

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Today’s a big day for anyone with Type 1 diabetes: JDRF just announced a partnership with the Animas Corporation to develop what they’re calling a “First-Generation Automated System for Managing Type 1 Diabetes.” Translation? They’re trying to make the first-ever artificial pancreas. Very, very exciting. To quote from the JDRF press release:

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation today announced an innovative partnership with Animas Corporation to develop an automated system to help people with type 1 diabetes better control their disease — the first step on the path to what would be among the most revolutionary advancements in treating type 1 diabetes: the development of an artificial pancreas, a fully automated system to dispense insulin to patients based on real-time changes in blood sugar levels.

The plan: Animas will work with DexCom to create an integrated CGM/pump system that will be able to shut off insulin delivery automatically if glucose levels drop too low, and increase insulin levels if your glucose goes too high. The system won’t be a total artificial pancreas — users will still have to program in boluses for meals — but it will still be very helpful for corrections, for maintaining safe levels while you sleep, and just generally keeping you in your target range more often than is normally possible when you’re doing the dosing yourself.

According to Alan Lewis, PhD, President and CEO of JDRF, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation will provide $8 million in funding over the next three years “with the target of having a first-generation system ready for regulatory review within the next four or so years.”

I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty freaking exciting. I’ve always been interested in the idea of a closed loop system, but my interest was especially piqued after interviewing Dan Hurley about his new book, Diabetes Rising. For his research, Hurley actually got to wear an experimental closed loop system (spoiler alert: it was huge, clunky, and required an overnight stay in the hospital), which he describes as such a freeing experience that it “brought tears to [his] eyes.” Hurley writes extensively about what it would take to get to a commercial closed loop system and why the hell it’s taking so long — and, given today’s announcement, his book is more timely than ever. I recommend checking it out — and in the meantime, here’s a big shout-out of appreciation to all the people involved in the new closed loop project. I wish you all the best.

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