A Bionic Pancreas: Closer to Reality Than You Think

Ed Damiano's son David was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes before he was even a year old. David, now 15, manages his blood sugar thanks to a system his father designed called the bionic pancreas. Ed hopes to have his device approved by the US Food and Drug Administration before his son leaves for college in three years.

"It's intimidating when you start considering the list of things that influence blood sugar," Ed, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, told NPR. "Emotions and physical activity, if you're healthy. You can't possibly take into account and balance all those things. And sometimes you get it right. And often you get it wrong."

But so far, so good: Ed's bionic pancreas, which is not much more than an iPhone app connected wirelessly to a transmitter worn taped to the abdomen which sends glucose data to a monitoring unit, was recently tested in 52 trial participants and out-performed how participants did on their own in terms of controlling blood sugar. Those findings were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

According to Ed, the bionic pancreas "is a device that automatically takes care of your blood sugars 24/7. It's a device that comes to know you."

Some of the drawbacks to Damiano's system include its added complexity (it uses two pumps, one for insulin and the other for glucagon) and in the event of device failure, the patient could die of hypoglycemia.

Regardless, Damiano's device has been approved for a second round of testing, which ought to bring the device one step closer to market approval.

Photo: WV Public