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42° Good Afternoon

'Bionic pancreas' offers glimmer of hope for parents of a diabetic

This undated product image provided by Boston University

This undated product image provided by Boston University Department of Biomedical Engineering shows the bionic pancreas developed by a Boston University/Massachusetts General Hospital research team. Credit: AP / Boston University Department of Biomedical Engineering

As a parent of a Type 1 diabetic child, I hope and wait for a “miracle cure” for my daughter and others like her who manage the chronic disease daily.

Two words in recent news — “bionic pancreas” — brought the latest glimmer of hope for what a number of us in the T1D community pray would be the closest thing to a cure. Boston researchers said they had successfully tested the bionic pancreas, a mechanical device, on 20 adults and 32 teens with the autoimmune disease in which the body destroys cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin. The hormone insulin converts food into energy.

The device with three parts — two cellphone-sized pumps for insulin and glucagon, and an iPhone wired to a continuous glucose monitor — was designed by a Boston University engineer whose son was diagnosed with diabetes as an infant. It constantly measures blood sugar levels and predicts the amount of insulin needed. It also administers glucagon, another pancreatic hormone that causes the liver to release glucose when levels drop. High blood sugar can lead to organ damage and death but the dangerously low levels that can trigger unconsciousness or a diabetic coma are constant fears those with T1D and their families live with.

Last week, researchers began a larger trial in four cities and eventually hope to have an improved version on the market by the end of 2017.

Exactly how feasible this device will be, I am not sure. What hurdles will have to be cleared for the device to win FDA approval and hit the market are yet to be seen. But I wait for the day when my daughter can find freedom from having to prick her fingers and monitor her blood sugar several times a day. I wait for the day when she no longer has to count the grams of carbohydrates (which directly impact glucose levels) she consumes and calculate the amount of insulin needed to inject based on her diet and exercise. I long for the day when my daughter, especially on hot summer days like these, can have a second scoop of ice cream and not fear her sugar levels will spike. I long for the day when she can go to bed and not have to wake up during the night because she feels low and weak or high and jittery and has to test and treat. I long for the day when she can sleep in like her siblings and not have to wake up at a scheduled time to test and eat breakfast. I long for the day when my  husband and I can sleep through the night without having to fear how she would fare through the night.

So this week on behalf of all Type 1 diabetics and their families, I say a silent prayer that this trial will be successful and that cure is on the horizon.


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