April 14, 2010
Artificial Pancreas Controls Insulin

We move ever closer to human-machine hybrids.

An artificial pancreas system that closely mimics the body's blood sugar control mechanism was able to maintain near-normal glucose levels without causing hypoglycemia in a small group of patients. The system, combining a blood glucose monitor and insulin pump technology with software that directs administration of insulin and the blood-sugar-raising hormone glucagon, was developed at Boston University (BU). The first clinical trial of the system was conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and confirmed the feasibility of an approach utilizing doses of both hormones. In their report, appearing in Science Translational Medicine, the researchers also found unexpectedly large differences in insulin absorption rates between study participants, differences they were able to account for by adjustments to the system.

"This is the first study to test an artificial pancreas using both insulin and glucagon in people with type 1 diabetes. It showed that, by delivering both hormones in response to frequent blood sugar tests, it is possible to control blood sugar levels without hypoglycemia, even after high-carbohydrate meals," says Steven Russell, MD, PhD, of the MGH Diabetes Unit, who co-led the research team with Edward Damiano, PhD, of the BU Department of Biomedical Engineering.

This isn't the full-on miniaturized, implanted insulin-making device that would provide full freedom of movement. That's a much tougher challenge.

One can imagine the use of an artificial pancreas for someone when they sleep or eat meals at home long before such a device becomes small enough to allow full mobile use. Think external artificial kidneys as a precedent. Also, an initial mobile device could be externally worn.

Artificial pancreases seem like a stop-gap in any case. Fixing the immune system to allow real pancreatic cells to once again regulate insulin seems the better solution. I see the biggest future for artificial organs as a way to deal with trauma and other causes of sudden organ failure. Hook up artificial organs until replacement organs can be grown or existing natural organs can be repaired with stem cell and gene therapy.

I also wonder if there's a future for artificial organs as special high performance enhancement parts. For example, look at the potential for artificial eyes to increase the viewable light spectrum. See into the infrared at any time by thinking a thought at your artificial eyes.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 April 14 10:34 PM  Biotech Organ Artificial

Tim said at April 15, 2010 10:06 AM:

This may seem like a stupid question but here goes: I believe that O minus blood type is universal donor, my question is is there such a thing as a universal tissue donor? That is a person whose cells tissue would be accepted by anyone? Organs derived from stem cells harvested from their bodies would be accepted without rejection by anyone. Probably just BS but wondering if such a thing could be.

Tom Van Hoose said at April 15, 2010 6:34 PM:


That's a good question. No, there isn't. There's a system that distinguishes between self & non-self in vertebrates called MHC (the Major Histocompatibility Complex). In humans, MHC is called HLA. You try to match this in tissue donors. The closer the match, the better. Without the right MHC, the recipient's immune system would simply default to seeing it as an invader.

As I understand it, the long-term aim for stem cell therapies would involve either harvesting stem cells from the patient (e.g., from the bone marrow), or to use somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) to turn stem cells from a donor into fully compatible tissue. SCNT simply involves destroying the nuclear of a cell and replacing it with another nucleus. This would make it genetically compatible, and most likely perceived as "self" by the recipient's immune system. Autoimmune disorders would be the exception, of course.

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