Diabetes: New Bionic Device Offers Hope, Uses iPhone App

Diabetes. Nearly one in ten Americans suffers from the condition that affects the body’s ability to regulate and produce the right levels of insulin and glucose. There is currently no cure for diabetes, but researchers from Harvard and Boston University have developed a bionic device that could make life much easier for diabetes sufferers as early as 2017.

According to a USA Today report, Ed Damiano, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, began his quest against diabetes when his then-11-month old son was diagnoses with type I diabetes. That was nearly 13 years ago. Damiano hopes to have the device fully developed and FDA approved before his son leaves for college.

The device replicates the function of a healthy pancreas by measuring patients’ insulin and glucose levels every five minutes and triggering insulin and glucagon pumps as needed. Initially, the device fed information to a laptop computer. The current model uses an iPhone app to calculate the hormone dosages diabetics need.

To benefit from the device, diabetics need to wear a small insulin/glucagon pump. The pump is about an inch thick and a little smaller than a deck of cards in length and width. Researchers are trying to develop a smaller version of the device before the bionic pancreas becomes available to the general public.

The bionic pancreas has been tested on both adults and children. According to a July 2013 Worcester Telegram & Gazettereport, FDA-approved tests were conducted last summer at a camp for diabetic teens. According to a CNN report, shorter-duration tests were conducted in hospitals in 2012 and showed promise.

One of the reasons that teens are being used in the studies is that the average age of people diagnosed with diabetes is 14.

The bionic pancreas replaces traditional diabetic treatment, which generally includes running a blood test every two hours and injecting insulin as needed.

Scott Scolnick, one of 30 adults participating in the device’s testing in Boston, called the bionic pancreas “life changing,” comparing it to the 1969 moon landing and claiming that the new lease on life it gave him was “a hundred-fold better” than walking his daughter down the aisle at her recent wedding. Scolnick has suffered with diabetes for 46 years.

The bionic pancreas’ developers are quick to point out that it isn’t a cure for diabetes – something researchers are still working on – but that it has the potential to make treating and living with the disease considerably easier for diabetes sufferers in the meanwhile.