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.