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Artificial Pancreas Shown Feasible for Young Children

Diabetes Assistant screen

Diabetes Assistant screen (University of Virginia)

4 April 2017. An integrated system combining a glucose monitor and insulin pump to simulate the human pancreas is shown to be feasible for young children with type 1 diabetes. Results of a study with a group of children, ages 5 to 8, were presented on 3 April at a meeting of the Endocrine Society in Orlando, Florida.

Type 1 diabetes is an inherited autoimmune disorder where the body does not produce insulin, and is diagnosed primarily in children or young adults. Autoimmune disorders are conditions where the immune system is tricked into attacking healthy cells and tissue as if they were foreign invaders, in this case, insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. About 1.25 million people in the U.S. have type 1 diabetes, about 5 percent of people with diabetes of any kind.

A research team from University of Virginia in Charlottesville, led by pediatrics professor Marc DeBoer, presented findings from a study where they tested an artificial pancreas device developed at the university’s Center for Diabetes Technology. The device combines the functions of a third-party blood glucose monitor and insulin pump, controlled with software called Diabetes Assistant, developed at the university, that resides on a smartphone. As described in Science & Enterprise, a clinical trial is underway testing the device among teens and adults.

An outstanding question, however, is whether a system of this kind can be operated successfully in younger children with type 1 diabetes. To answer the question, DeBoer and colleagues recruited 12 children, divided equally between boys and girls, age 5 to 8, with type 1 diabetes. Participants were randomly assigned to use the artificial pancreas device, with child-proof locked-down screens, for 68 hours or their own blood glucose monitors and insulin pumps at home for the same amount of time, then switching to the other method. The children’s physical activity levels were also measured with Fitbit devices.

The results show the children experienced more time with safe blood glucose levels when using the artificial pancreas. When the children were wearing the test device, their blood glucose levels were within safe ranges — between 70 and 180 milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL — 73 percent of that time on average. compared to 47 percent of the time for home care with their own blood glucose monitors and insulin pumps.

Children also spent less time with high blood glucose levels when using the artificial pancreas (26%) compared to home care (52%). Amounts of time with hypoglycemia or low blood sugar were about the same for each method, 3 percent for the artificial pancreas and 4 percent for home care.

The team concludes the artificial pancreas, adapted for young children is safe and improves overall diabetes control. Although the number of children in the study was small, the results, says DeBoer in an Endocrine Society statement, “show great promise because similar results have been found in large-scale studies of older individuals with type 1 diabetes.”

DeBoer and several members of the research team are co-founders of the company TypeZero Technologies LLC in Charlottesville, taking the artificial pancreas system to market.

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