Bionic Pancreas: There’s an App for That

Evidence that a bionic pancreas — a closed loop system for controlling blood glucose — can really work burst into the news on Sunday with simultaneous presentation at the Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association and publication in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Bionic PancreasThe data show that a bionic pancreas system developed at Boston University can better control blood glucose levels in both adults and adolescents than a typical insulin pump and glucose monitoring.The system consists of a sophisticated app running on an iPhone and connected wirelessly to two pumps and a glucose monitor. One pump administers insulin and reduces glucose levels. The other administers glucagon, which exerts the opposite effect. They are controlled by an adaptive algorithm in the app that adjusts the actions of the pumps every five minutes.

Two studies were presented and published: one in adults and one in adolescents. With a randomized, crossover control design in 20 adults and 32 adolescents, they found that both groups were maintained within the desired blood glucose range more continuously by the bionic pancreas system.

It created one of those rare moments when a compelling scientific story merged with a perfect PR opportunity. If the “bionic pancreas” label isn’t enough for you, the fact that the system is being engineered by the father of an adolescent with type-1 diabetes should do the trick. And did we mention that this was all published on Fathers Day?

PR aside, this is a pretty impressive development. Of course these studies are short-term, 5 days in each regimen. Diabetes is a chronic disease and longer-term data will be necessary. But it’s an impressive debut.

Click here to read more in the Boston Globe, here to read more from NPR, and here to read the publication in NEJM. To read more about the bionic pancreas project at Boston University, click here.

Cyborg, photograph © Linus Bohman / flickr

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