RPI Hopes to Create a Vital Artificial Pancreas Component

New Approach to Blood Sugar Monitoring That Could Open The Door to an Artificial Pancreas

| Jul 9, 2011

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York is working on a new approach to blood sugar monitoring that could open the door to an artificial pancreas. The plan is to develop an automated monitoring system so sophisticated that it can take into account the often great differences in blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity among people with type 1 diabetes.

According to Professor B. Wayne Bequette, who is leading RPI's development of the monitoring system, the mathematical algorithms it uses were inspired by his research into managing chemical reactions during oil refining. He believes that the same algorithms might predict the direction of blood sugar levels, even given the great variations among type 1s. Such a monitoring capability would even be able to anticipate the need for more insulin as a user nears mealtime.

Short of a genetic or medical breakthrough that would cure type 1 diabetes, the next best hope for type 1s has been the creation of an artificial pancreas: a combination insulin pump and blood sugar monitor that acts automatically to maintain proper insulin levels. Perhaps the best thing about such a technology is that it would liberate type 1s from having to constantly monitor their insulin levels and attempt to estimate how much insulin they need to bolus.

Part of the technology for an artificial pancreas already exists: insulin pumps that can mete out a set quantity of insulin, and continuous glucose monitors that measure a person's blood sugar levels in real time. But the success of that combination relies on alert users who interpret the readings from their CGMs and set their insulin pump levels accordingly.

Still lacking is a reliable automatic system wherein the monitor can "tell" the pump how much insulin to push through. That's where the RPI research comes in. Once a "smart" monitoring system has been equipped with the sophisticated ability to adjust insulin levels to an individual's needs, it will be a giant step toward creation of a true artificial pancreas.

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Categories: Artificial Pancreas, Blood Sugar, Blood Sugar, Continuous Glucose Monitor, Diabetes, Diabetes, Insulin, Insulin Pumps, Insulin Sensitivity, Meal Time Insulin, Monitoring, Technology, Type 1 Issues

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Posted by shosty on 12 July 2011

From what I have seen over 18 years with my daughter, who had has type 1 since the age of 4, human agency should never be removed from insulin decisions. No matter how sophisticated an algorithm, blood sugars are just too irrational, and variables too numerous, for any system other than the human brain, in my opinion.

One person will get high when nervous, another will get low. One person may get high when nervous just before a period, and in hot weather, but not at other times of the month, or in cold weather. Seriously.

The CGM has been a dismal failure for many, and I wish the companies would stop putting money into a system that will never be useable.

Bring back that implantable pump that we have all read about recently, that people are flying to France every 3 months to refill. It injects insulin intra-abdominally and apparently greatly improves lives for those with type 1.

Posted by Anonymous on 12 July 2011

I don't get this. This exactly what Medtronic/Animas/Dexcom/JDRF are all working on too ... so what's so different about this guys approach? Is he working with any of the above (or any other manufacturer)?

Posted by chanson3633 on 14 July 2011

I agree with shosty. In addition, the obvious problem with the system is not that it "relies on alert users who interpret the readings." The problem is that the action of the insulin delivered is always delayed by 1-2 hours after it is injected. No algorithm is going to be better than the "alert user" who knows she/he is going to eat lunch in 15 minutes and can bolus for the lunch before the BG starts to go up. If you wait until the BG has already started to rise, you are already too late.

The implantable pump, as I understand it, delivers the insulin in a way that makes it much faster acting. For that reason, it will always be more effective than the other delivery systems.

I have been on a pump for 7 years, and it's great, but I don't see the advantage of these new algorithms.

Posted by Anonymous on 25 July 2011

There's no real advantage to these algorithms as long as the insulin is delivered sub-q. Users will still need to do daily finger-sticks to make sure the calibration of the CGMS is functioning properly. Something the press releases are not telling you. For me, depending on which parts of my body I place my pump catheter, I have much different results. Most likely due to the scar tissue that is forming in those areas after 15 years of pump use. I think the artificial pancreas is nothing more than a desperate attempt by the JDRF and pump makers to force a product that will be increasingly expensive to use. Not to mention another special and expensive non-generic insulin we will need to buy. I'm concerned about all of the secrecy about the costs of this artificial pancreas. The manufacturers and JDRF are completely silent on this. The JDRF really needs this artificial pancreas to lead off their "Translational Research" campaign because they truly have nothing else ready for the bedside. Not for several decades! This is the best they have to offer and its really sad considering all the walking people have done to donate over $1.5 billion dollars the last 40 years and we still can't get away from sub-q insulin delivery. Very, very sad!

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