Although a fully automated solution to the challenge of insulin regulation in patients with diabetes is still closer to idea than reality, researchers are making strides down the six-step road map to an artificial pancreas laid out by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).
Medtronic’s insulin delivery system, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in fall 2013, achieves step one of the road map. The device automatically halts insulin release when glucose reaches a certain level and the patient does not respond to a low glucose alert. A step-two device, currently being developed by Medtronic, will predict low glucose levels and slow or stop insulin to minimize hypoglycemia. Step three of the road map will prevent unsafe high as well as low blood sugar levels. The JDRF predicts that a step-three device will be available within a few years.
Step four is a device that maintains blood sugar at a target instead of within a range, although patients will still have to manually administer insulin before meals. Step five calls for the elimination of manually administered insulin, with the patient’s blood sugar maintained at target entirely by the artificial pancreas. In the final step of the road map, step six, the device will be able to administer other hormones, in addition to insulin, to regulate blood sugar.
Researchers hope that artificial pancreases currently being developed will help patients with type 1 diabetes who are not able to meet glucose-control goals using current approaches as well as help maintain glucose levels while patients are asleep.