For Diabetics, a Longtime Goal Is Within Reach

Current technologies for Type 1 diabetics in the U.S.—blood-glucose meters, continuous-glucose monitors, insulin pumps and new insulins—aren’t yet at the stage where they can fully replace a functional pancreas. But technology in use in Europe is on its way to automating insulin delivery. Medtronic Inc. is seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an insulin pump that would stop insulin delivery when glucose levels fall too low, potentially limiting episodes of hypoglycemia, which can cause seizures and blackouts. The pump became available in Europe in 2009. “The end of the rainbow is some automated device that will be able to come close to normalizing glucose,” says Francine Kaufman, chief medical officer in the Medtronic diabetes division.

Johnson & Johnson’s Animas division plans to seek FDA approval of an insulin pump that connects with a continuous glucose monitor in one device. The monitor, from Dexcom Inc., was approved by the FDA last fall.

Animas also recently completed a second phase of human clinical trial of a closed-loop system that would predict a rise or fall in blood glucose and adjust the insulin delivery accordingly.

Researchers see all of these steps as helping bring about a more normal existence for people with Type 1 diabetes while limiting the risks of fluctuating sugar levels in the blood.

“We are coming closer and closer,” says Thomas Danne, chief physician at the Children’s Hospital on the Bult in Hannover, Germany, who has conducted trials with Medtronic’s technology.

Most nights, Karen Cooper, a lawyer in Atlanta whose 10-year-old daughter has Type 1 diabetes, wakes up multiple times to monitor and adjust the girl’s blood-sugar levels. If the levels are too high, she gives her insulin; if they are too low, she gives her chocolate milk to sip.

“I want my daughter to have the independence and cut the strings to me,” says Ms. Cooper. “How long am I going to be the one acting as her pancreas?”

REFERENCE: WSJ; Monday, April 8, 2013; By KATE LINEBAUGH

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