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Artificial pancreas passes real-world test

Person in a white coat reaching toward an illustration of a pancreas.

Nov. 11, 2019—A new all-in-one system for managing type 1 diabetes is so far proving to work better than existing treatments.

It's called an artificial pancreas, and it recently completed the final phase of clinical trials needed before it can be sold in the U.S. In real-world settings, the artificial pancreas was better than current treatments at managing blood sugar (glucose) levels in people with type 1 diabetes.

The system improved people's blood sugar control throughout the day and overnight. That's important, because blood sugar can drop to dangerously low levels when a person is asleep.

How it works

Currently, people with type 1 diabetes must go through a two-step process to manage their blood sugar levels. First, they measure their levels using either a finger-stick test or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Then they deliver insulin as needed through injection or an insulin pump.

The artificial pancreas combines a CGM with an insulin pump in one automated device. It's intended to take away the burden of checking and responding to blood sugar levels multiple times a day.

Promising results

In the clinical trial, some people used the artificial pancreas while others used a CGM and separate insulin pump. Those using the artificial pancreas spent an average of 2.6 more hours each day in the target blood sugar range than they had before the trial. The other group's time in the target range remained unchanged. Artificial pancreas users also showed improvements in their A1C (a long-term measure of blood sugar control).

There were no severe hypoglycemic events (when blood sugar falls too low) during the study. One person in the artificial pancreas group experienced diabetic ketoacidosis (a serious complication of diabetes) due to a problem with the equipment that delivers insulin from the pump.

The results of the trial have been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permission to market the artificial pancreas system.

The study was mostly funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. It appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Learn more about type 1 diabetes, including the major role played by the pancreas.

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