Millions of people in the world suffer from diabetes. To them, “life is a series of finger sticks, injections, and surges and dips in blood sugar levels” (Nazario, 2004). To date, manual methods have been the major means of managing diabetes among patients. The artificial pancreas is a promising addition to the treatment and management of type 1diabetes with the potential of easing a lot of discomfort and suffering that the fluctuations in glucose levels cause. Type 1 diabetes results from the failure of the body to produce insulin affecting the body’s capacity to control blood sugar level (Eckman, 2010). The goal of the development of the artificial pancreas is to help patients keep to their blood sugar within the usual range. There is a lot of research going on in this field.
There are three possible approaches in the development of an artificial pancreas (Williams & Wilkins, 2006). The medical-equipment approach involves development of equipment that artificially monitors the blood sugar levels. It works by monitoring blood sugar level by using “a glucose sensor, a minicomputer with appropriate algorithms, an insulin infusion pump, and a glucose infusion pump” (Bronzino, 2000, p.134). The three parts of this type of artificial pancreas must work in harmony to produce the intended results. The bioengineering approach involves the implantation of artificially developed beta cells surgically implanted onto the pancreas to stimulate the production of insulin (Calafiore & Basta, 2007).
The third approach uses genetic engineering referred to as gene therapy. Using this approach, medical practitioners inject a genetically engineered virus, which causes intestine cells to produce insulin (Guthrie & Guthrie, 2003). These three approaches try to mimic the endocrine functions of the pancreas. The pancreas secretes three hormones that are important for glycemic control. Insulin is one of them.
Among the three approaches to the production of an artificial pancreas, the medical-equipment approach receives more attention. The major advantage that the artificial pancreas provides patients is that it reduces the uncomfortable effects that insulin fluctuation causes, some of which are very severe. “Research shows that near-normal blood glucose levels can help stave off devastating diabetes complications that ravage the eyes, nerves, kidneys, and heart” (Gebel, 2010).
Manual control by insulin injection requires a lot of attention since fluctuations in insulin levels may create health complications for the diabetes patient. Artificial control via an artificial pancreas improves the degree of insulin level control. This makes it easier for patients to live enhanced lives, free from the daily hassles they currently go through to keep their insulin at the right levels.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF) is a lead organization in the development of the artificial pancreas based on the medical equipment approach. Parents with children suffering from type 1 diabetes founded JDFR forty years ago. In addition to sponsoring research in the management and treatment of diabetes, the organization runs an active project, which aims at the development of an artificial pancreas.
The JDRF Artificial Pancreas Project aims at the “development and approval of automated systems for people living with type 1 diabetes” (JDRF, 2010). JDFR among other organizations has developed and tested an artificial pancreas in controlled environments and is currently running a campaign to make it possible for them to conduct real life tests outside the controlled environment.
Bronzino, J.D., 2000. The Biomedical Engineering Handbook. 2nd ed. Boca Raton: Springer.
Calafiore, R. & Basta, G., 2007. Artificial Pancreas to Treat Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. In H. Hauser & M. Fussenegger, eds. Tissue Engineering. 2nd ed. Totowa, N.J.: Humana Press. pp.187-98.
Eckman, A.S., 2010. Type 1 Diabetes. Web.
Gebel, E., 2010. The Artificial Pancreas: Scientists Race to Make the Closed-Loop Glucose Management System a Reality. Web.
Guthrie, D.W. & Guthrie, R.A., 2003. The Diabetes Sourcebook. Illustrated ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Professional.
JDRF, 2010. About the Artificial Pancreas Project. Web.
Nazario, B., 2004. Artificial Pancreas on the Horizon. Web.
Williams, L. & Wilkins, 2006. Diabetes Mellitus: A Guide to Patient Care. Illustrated ed. Ambler, PA: Lippicott Williams & Wilkins.