It could be life-changing technology for type 1 diabetics, a condition where the pancreas makes little insulin, or none at all. Doctors are hailing the so-called “artificial pancreas” as a game changer for millions with the disease.
For Jamie Kurtzig, 13, and her mom Sara, checking her blood sugar level during the day is routine. They’ve been doing it since she was diagnosed with type one diabetes at just 19 months. The problem is at night if blood sugars drop, Jamie could easily have a seizure, or worse, fall into a coma.
“For ten years we just set alarms and get up, ya know every, usually every two to three hours to do a check to make sure that she’s in a safe range,” Sara said.
But this device, just under Jamie’s shoulder is changing all that. Dubbed an artificial pancreas or closed-looped insulin delivery system, it checks glucose levels every five minutes and wirelessly alerts Jamie’s pump, which then deliveries the correct dose of insulin.
Jamie explained, “And so I can just go to bed, and wake up, and be in auto mode and perfect blood sugar.”
Jamie is part of a trial at Stanford, which helped prompt the FDA to approve the device. It’s being hailed as an historic step towards treating diabetes but doctors warn this is not a cure.
Bruce Buckingham, MD, Professor of Pediatrics (Endocrinology) at the Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital in California explained, “This is a car analogy: that you are still driving, putting on the gas, putting on the brakes, and making the turns, and it is not an autopilot car.”
Jamie will have to manage her diabetes her entire life, but at least for now, she and her family can get a good night’s sleep.
For pediatric diabetics, 75 percent of all seizures occur at night. Researchers are hoping the artificial pancreas will decrease those numbers dramatically. The system is not an option for most people with type 2 diabetes, the more common form of the disease.