People with type 1 diabetes have to endure multiple insulin injections daily or use an insulin pump to control their condition, but researchers say the artificial pancreas could offer a simpler management method.
Francis J. Doyle and colleagues from the University of California-Santa Barbara reveal how the device can continuously measure an individual's blood glucose levels and automatically deliver insulin when required.
They publish the details of their creation in the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.
According to the American Diabetes Association, around 1.25 million adults and children in the US have type 1 diabetes, of whom around 200,000 are under the age of 20.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops producing the hormone insulin, which can result in dangerously high or low blood glucose levels.
People with type 1 diabetes must measure their blood glucose levels by pricking their fingers for blood regularly throughout the day, using the measurements to calculate the insulin dose needed.
To deliver insulin to the body, individuals must either inject themselves with the hormone multiple times throughout the day, or have a continuous infusion of the hormone via an insulin pump.
But Doyle and colleagues say their new device could make managing type 1 diabetes much easier, abolishing the need for finger pricking and multiple injections.
Optimum glucose levels maintained '78% of the time' in computer tests
In their study, the researchers detail the creation of a fully implantable artificial pancreas that uses an algorithm to monitor patients' blood glucose levels and calculate the insulin dose needed, which is then automatically delivered to the body.
On conducting computer testing of the device - involving simulation of a rise and fall in glucose levels that occurs after meals throughout the day - the team found it maintained the optimum blood glucose range of 80-140 mg/dL 78% of the time, "with no time spent in hypoglycemia."
Speaking about the device at a press conference when it was first unveiled back in January, Doyle says he believes it has the potential to transform type 1 diabetes management, adding:
"The closed-circuit system provides much tighter control at an unprecedented level to minimize complications and to improve the quality of life.
It will have immediate benefits, as it will lower health care costs in the country and it will reduce the amount of decisions people with diabetes need to make on a constant basis."
The researchers say they hope the artificial pancreas will be available for type 1 diabetes patients in the next 5 years, though the next step for the team is to conduct animal testing to "evaluate the in vivo performance" of the device.
This is not the first artificial pancreas to be developed for type 1 diabetes. In November 2014, Medical News Today reported how a team of Canadian researchers showed how two versions of an external artificial pancreas were more effective than an insulin pump for managing the condition.