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SmartPhone 'Pancreas' For Type 1 Diabetes: Promising Test Results

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It's not a cure. But researchers have just reported promising results on a "bionic pancreas" for managing Type 1 diabetes, which affects some 2 million Americans.

And the news has a moving personal story behind it, a father seeking to help his son. As NPR's Rob Stein reports, Boston University biomedical engineer Ed Damiano shifted the focus of his career after his son, David, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 11 months.

Damiano has developed a system he calls a "bionic pancreas" designed to help people better manage their blood sugar. He's racing to get it approved by the Food and Drug Administration before his son leaves for college in three years.

In tests with 52 teenagers and adults, the device did a better job controlling blood sugar than the subjects typically did on their own. The results were reported Sunday at an American Diabetes Association meeting in San Francisco and also published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

At the moment, Damiano's system is basically a sophisticated app that runs on an iPhone. The iPhone is connected wirelessly to the kind of blood sugar monitor that many people with diabetes wear taped to their abdomens.

The app analyzes the data from the monitor and sends signals wirelessly to two pumps that are similar to devices many diabetes patients wear to infuse themselves with insulin. In this case, one pump contains insulin and the other contains glucagon, a different hormone that raises blood sugar when it gets too low.

"The bionic pancreas is a device that automatically takes care of your blood sugars 24/7," Damiano says. "It's a device that comes to know you."

Further coverage:
Boston Globe: Artificial pancreas offers hope to diabetes patients
New York Times: Artificial pancreas shows promise in diabetes test
And Bostonia magazine last summer carried a full-fledged feature on Damiano's work: Sugar Fix: A diabetic child spurs a race for a bionic pancreas

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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